Monday, August 31, 2009

Pastas Frescas Caprese del Verano - Summer Fresh Pasta Caprese

This dish is full of fresh summer flavors combining ripe heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil plucked from my garden. The dish is not hot when served, but warm. I do not know if they serve something like this in Italy, but it is a refreshing and enjoyable summer pasta dish we enjoy here in California.

Ingredients Needed To Make This Recipe:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 small shallot, minced fine (about 2 tablespoons)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
12 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pound gemelli or any other curly or tubular pasta
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Juice of 1 lemon, if needed
2 teaspoons sugar, if needed

Whisk oil, garlic, shallot, salt and pepper together in bowl. If tomatoes are not ripe add the juice of 1 lemon and 2 teaspoons sugar. Add tomatoes, gently toss and set aside. Do not marinate for for longer than 45 minutes or the tomatoes will turn to mush.

Meanwhile place cubed mozzarella on a plate and freeze until slightly firm, about 10 minutes or so.

Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil in a large pot. Add 1 table spoon kosher salt and pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain well.

Add pasta and mozzarella to tomato mixture and gently toss to combine. Let stand 5 minutes. stir in basil; adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. This is a pasta dish that is good on a summer evening, a summer luncheon and served cold it makes a delightful pasta salad.

Insalata Caprese - Salad of Capri

Two plentiful crops in our summer garden is basil and tomatoes that go together in this traditional Italian salad. Some sources say this salad originated on the isle of Capri and others say that may not be so. One thing is for certain, this salad is served in almost every restaurant in Italy. The layers of tomato, mozzarella and basil signify the red, white and green of the Italian flag.

Insalata Caprese is simple to make and you can assemble it in a variety of ways. Start with slicing fresh ripe tomatoes preferably from your garden or Farmers market. Using a variety of different color heirloom tomatoes we can find so readily here in California makes a stunning presentation on a platter. Slice soft fresh mozzarella; try to keep the slices consistent with the size of the sliced tomatoes. You can place the tomato slices on a serving platter slightly overlapping or just lay flat on the platter. Place a slice of fresh mozzarella on top of each tomato slice. You can be creative and stand the tomato slices on end and wedge a slice of mozzarella between each one. Take fresh basil leaves that have been washed and use as you prefer to serve the insalata. You can place a whole basil leaf on top of each stack, or on every other one, or in-between the standing ones. Personally I like to chiffonade the basil by rolling a stack of leaves together and slicing thinly, then sprinkle the cut basil over all. Drizzle a little good-quality olive oil to your taste. Season with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. I do like to add balsamic vinegar as well when using burrata - a very soft, creamy fresh mozzarella. The balsamic goes so well with it.

Another way I like to make insalata Capese is to use grape tomatoes as seen in the picture above. Using different colors makes a nice presentation. Cube the fresh mozzarella to about the same size as the halved grape tomatoes. Add basil chiffonade and drizzle with good quality olive olive. Season with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. You can also drizzle on some balsamic if you desire. This presentation works very well when entertaining and serving buffet style. You can easily scoop it from the bowl, and eat it from your plate if you are not sitting at a table. This is definaitely a summer Italian delight.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Goulash alla Triestina - Beef Stew Trieste Style

After years of reading about the dishes of different regions of Italy, I have learned that there are dishes instantly identified with a city -- the black risotto of Venezia , the fettucine all'Alfredo of Roma, the tortellini of Bologna and the goulash of Trieste. This melt in your mouth stew preparation with a dense wine-tomato sauce made sweet by onions is one my husband and I instantly fell in love with. The secret to a good stew is in the long, slow cooking. After browning the meat, this will cook all by itself, needing only an occasional stir. I love dishes such as this that are simple to prepare and fill the house with mouth-watering aromas while they slowly cook. This is nice served with slices of fried polenta. My very American husband enjoys it best served over egg noodles.

The Ingredients Needed to Make this Dish:

1/4 cup olive oil
2 pounds stew meat, cut in about 1-inch pieces
2 large onions, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3 to 4 bay leaves, crumbled
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 cups dry full-bodied wine (I am not a fan of Merlot, but like it used in this dish)
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes in puree (I prefer Muir Glen) - Again I have used crushed over can whole and put through a food mill. Use either one you choose.
1 1/2 cups meat broth, preferably homemade (50% less salt canned beef broth can be substituted)

Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the meat and cook, stirring, until it is lightly browned on all sides, perhaps 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer meat to a plate, reduce the heat to medium/medium high and add the onions.

Cook and stir until the onions are lightly golden, 4 to 5 minutes.

Return the meat to the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Add the paprika, bay leaves, and vinegar, and stir once or twice. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until it is reduced by half, 6 to 7 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and 1 cup of the meat broth and mix well. Cover the skillet, leaving it slightly askew, and reduce heat to low. Simmer 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the meat can be cut with a fork, stirring a few times. If the sauce dried too much during cooking, add some more meat broth.

The stew served over egg noodles. This serves 4 to 6 people, depending on size of appetites.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Pollo alla Cacciatora Milanese - Chicken Hunter-Style from Milan

I have read that in the trattorie of Milan, rabbit, pheasant, lamb or chicken are often cooked alla Cacciatore. This preparation implies a method of cooking that gives the dish a rustic and robust quality. In Milan the key ingredients to this simple dish is dried porcini mushrooms whose woodsy flavor enriches the depth of flavor in this slowly cooked dish. Serve with soft, grilled or roasted polenta. The best part is the leftover sauce, which makes a delicious second meal tossed with penne, rigatoni or any pasta type you enjoy. A Note: Traditonally Italian cooks are light on the tomatoes. In this dish because of making a pasta sauce as well for a second meal, I like to use the canned crushed tomatoes in puree over whole canned Italian tomatoes that have been put through a food mill to puree and remove seeds which is more tradtional in most Italian recipes using can tomatoes. I like the thicker texture the crushed tomatoes in puree gives the sauce.

1 oz dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 2 cups lukewarm water for 20 minutes
1/4 cup EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)
2 cups flour
1 chicken (3 to 4 pounds) cut into pieces, washed and dried with paper towels
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, minced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 cup dry white wine (I usually use Gaetano D'Aquino Delle Venezie 2007, a reasonably priced Pinot Grigio with a dry flavor and slightly bitter end)
1 (28 oz) can Crushed tomatoes in puree (I prefer Muir Glen brand)

Drain the mushrooms reserving the soaking liquid. Rinse the mushrooms well under cold running water, then chop coarsely. Line a strainer with a few layers of paper towels and strain the soaking liquid into a bowl to get rid of the sandy deposits. Set aside.

In a large deep skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Flour the chicken pieces lightly and add to the skillet skin side down. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook, turning only once, until golden brown on all sides, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Discard the oil and add the butter, returning the skillet to medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the onion, garlic, rosemary and parsley. Cooking, stirring until the onion is lightly golden and soft, perhaps 6 minutes.

Add the porcini and wine, stirring with a wooden spoon, scraping up all the bits on the bottom of the pan, until the wine is almost evaporated.

Add the tomatoes and 1 cup of the porcini liquid, then lightly season with salt and pepper.

As soon as the sauce begins to bubble, return the chicken to the skillet, reduce heat to low, and partially cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened nicely, about 40 to 50 minutes. If needed, add a bit more porcini liquid if sauce thickens too much. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve hot.

This is even better if you allow the dish to rest for about an hour before serving. The flavors become more pronounced.

The leftover sauce served the following evening over penne. My heart sang when I ate both the cacciatore and the pasta. My Nana used to use porcini mushrooms and rosemary in many of her dishes, and the aroma of this dish brought me back to Nana's kitchen all those years ago and the taste brought tears to my eyes. Eccellente!