Monday, September 28, 2009

Pasta al Forno con la Besciamella - Pasta Baked with Bechamel and Parmigiano

This is a simple, inexpensive dish to prepare. It can feed a crowd or a few. The beauty of this dish is that it can be made completely ahead of time and baked at the last moment. The baked penne ooze velvety bechamel and melted parmigiano. Italian comfort food at its best.

Heat 3 cups milk in a small saucepan over low heat. Melt 6 tablespoons unsalted butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the butter foams, add 5 tablespoons flour. Lower the heat to medium-low and stirring, cook about 2 minutes, without letting the flour burn.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and pour in the milk all at once. Mix enthusiastically to prevent lumps. Place saucepan back on low heat, season with salt to taste, and cook gently,stirring constantly until the sauce has a medium-thick consistency. This takes around 3 to 5 minutes. If the sauce is too thin, cook a bit longer. If too thick add a bit more milk. Cover the pan and set aside until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add about 1 tablespoon salt and 1 pound of penne. Cook uncovered over high heat 7 to 8 minutes. The penne shouldn't be totally cooked because it will cook more in the oven. Drain the pasta and place in the baking dish.

Stir in 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg to the bechamel.

Add the bechamel to the pasta and mix in well.

Sprinkle the penne with 3/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano. Sometime I use 1/2 cup grated Vella dry Jack from Sonoma, CA and 1/4 cup pecorino romano. Dot with 3 tablespoons unsalted butter that has been cut into small pieces. Bake until the cheese melts and the penne has a golden color, around 15 minutes or so. Serve hot.
Buon Appetito!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Caffe Corretto

This is a warming after dinner drink on a cold winter evening. Cozy up by the fire and enjoy a cuppa. In fact in the cold mountains of Italy this is a warming drink all day long. For each serving; add a shot of grappa (an unaged brandy, originally from Italy, distilled from the pomace of a wine press) to a demitasse of espresso and just a dash of sugar. Have lemon rind to stir/dip for added flavor.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Salsa della Carne con il Vitello e la Crema - Meat Sauce with Veal and Cream

This is a lovely sauce, layered with distinct flavors that blend gently to make this a favorite in my household. The light flavor of the veal and prosciutto, layered with the aromatics of the carrot, onion and parsley, the hint of Marsala and nutmeg grounding the sauce, and a touch of cream taming the tomato and adding a slight richness to the sauce. Dishes such as this cooking on the stove top bring a sense of place and a warm soul to my kitchen.

Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a cooking pot over medium heat. Add finely minced 1 small carrot, 1 small onion and 2 tablespoons parsley and cook, stirring now and then, until the onion is pale yellow and soft, perhaps 4 to 5 minutes. Add 10 ounces of ground veal and 1/4 pound sliced prosciutto finely diced and cook, until the meat is no longer pink, stirring now and then.

Add 1/2 cup dry Marsala wine and cook until it is almost all reduced. Stir in 3 cups strained or crushed canned tomatoes, 1 cup chicken broth, 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper.

Cook, uncovered over low heat (gentle simmer) 45 minutes or so, until the sauce has a medium-thick consistency.
During the last few minutes of cooking add in 2 tablespoons double (heavy) cream and stir a few times. While the sauce is cooking, cook penne rigatta, fresh made gnocchi de patate (potato gnocchi), spaghetti, noodles or rice to serve with the sauce. When serving, top with freshly grated parmigiano. I like to stir in perhaps a 1/2 cup of the cheese to potato gnocchi and sauce.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ostruzione della Prugna - Plum Jam

Keeping with the tradition of Nana's Italian-American kitchen I have found that I love to can. Using produce from my own garden or from the local farmers market is a great way to bring fresh homemade goods to my family and friends. It's rewarding as well. The plums I used for this jam are from our daughter Theresa's yard.

In a 8-qt pan, combine 4 1/2 cups of peeled, pitted and crushed plums with 7 1/2 cups of sugar. Cover and let stand for 20 minutes.

Remove the cover and over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, heat the mixture until the sugar completely dissolves. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, stirring gently. Remove the pan from the heat and skim off the foam.
Return the pan to the heat and bring to a boil; boil for 1 minute stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and skim off the foam.
Stir in 1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter and once again over medium-high heat bring the mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Stir in an entire 3 ounce pouch of liquid pectin; return to a full boil, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and skim off foam. It is important to skim off the foam all three times since the plums and stirring make a lot of foam and you do not want that in your jars of jam.
To prevent the jam separating in the jars allow the jam to cool 5 minutes before filling your hot jars. Gently stir the jam every minute or so to distribute the fruit. Ladle the hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1.4-inch headspace. Wipe the jar rims and threads with a clean, damp cloth. Cover with hot lids and apply screw rings.
Process 1/2 pint jars in a 200 degree F water bath for 10 minutes, pint jars for 15 minutes. Cool jars on a wire rack, leaving at least 1-inch space jars for air to circulate to cool.

The finished product with sun from the window shining on the jars.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ostruzione della Pesca - Peach Jam

One thing I remember well from Nana's Italian-American kitchen is that she did a lot of preserving. This is something I taught myself to do last year and it has become something I thoroughly enjoy. I love opening the pantry and browsing jars of foods I did myself from homegrown or farmers market produce. Here is a recipe for peach jam that I made a last month from peaches from our daughters garden.

Ingredients Needed:
4 cups peeled, pitted and crushed yellow peaches (3 1/2 to 4 pounds)
1/4 cup strained fresh lemon juice
7 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 (3 ounce) pouch liquid pectin

In an 8 quart pan, combine the peaches and lemon juice. Stir in about half the sugar. Cover the pan and let stand for 20 minutes.

Remove the cover. Stir in the remaining sugar and the butter. Over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, heat the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved. Increase the heat to medium-high, and bring the mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat. Skim off any foam.

Return to the pan to the heat and bring the mixture to a full rolling boil. stir in the entire contents of the pectin pouch. Return the mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove the pan form the heat. Skim off any foam.

To prevent the jam from separating in the jars, allow the jam to cool 5 minutes before filling the jars. Gently stir the jam every minute or so to distribute the fruit. Ladle the hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe the jar rims and threads with a clean, damp cloth. Cover with hot lids and apply screw rings. Process half-pint jars in a 200 degree F (93 C) water bath for 10 minutes, pint jars 15 minutes.

NOTE: When preparing peaches, cut the fruit in quarters and remove the red fibers from the center before crushing the fruit. The fibers can be tough and stringy when cooked, and the red streaks in the jam can detract from its appearance. This makes about 8 half-pint jars.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Polla alla Cacciatora Bolognese - Chicken Hunter-Style Bologna

There are many versions of Cacciatore. I think every Italian-Amercian cook has their way of cooking this chicken dish. I have my own version, and over the years have also tried different ways to cook this dish. This version has pancetta and marsala as part of the ingredients.

To make the cacciatore; Cut a 4 to 5 pound chicken into 8 serving pieces, coat generously with flour, shaking of excess. Heat olive oil (3 to 4 tablespoons) in a large skillet over high heat; add the chicken and cook until golden on all sides. Don;t crowd the chicken pieces in the pan. Cook in two batches if necessary. Remove chicken pieces to a plate. Turn the heat down to medium and add 1 medium onion finely minced, 3 ounces of pancetta, chopped, 3 garlic cloves minced and 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary; cook until it begins to color.

Return the chicken to the pan, then turn heat to high and add 1 cup dry Marsala. Cook and stir until the wine is almost reduced then add 3 cups strained canned tomatoes and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a boil, cover with lid askew, lower heat to low and cook slowly, turning the chicken a few times while cooking, for 1an hour or so. Serve hot with soft or grilled polenta, crusty bread or my husbands favorite way with steamed rice.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ossobuco con Porcini - Veal Shanks with Porcini Mushrooms

Both my husband and I love ossobuco; the flavors of the tender meat that falls off the bone and melts in your mouth. We are most familiar with the classic Ossobuco alla Milanese which is cooked in white wine, broth, tomato and vegetables topped with an herb gremolata. Veal shanks can be cooked in many different ways, the main thing is to cook them very slowly with other flavorful ingredients to make them shine. After having ossobuco with porcini mushrooms recently in an Italian restaurant rated as one of the top ten in the United States I wanted to try the same version at home. (Side Note - my mother loved bone marrow and taught us that it is considered a delicacy in Italy. I never appreciated that when I was a child, but I understand fully now and savor the treat.)

Soak 1 ounce of imported dry porcini mushrooms in 2 cups of lukewarm water for 20 minutes. Strain the porcini and reserve the water. Rinse the mushrooms under cold water and chop them roughly. Line a strainer with a double paper towel and train the porcini water to remove dirt deposits, reserving 1 cup of the liquid. Dredge 4 to 8 veal shanks (2 to 4 pounds) cut about 2 inches thick in flour, shaking off excess.

Heat 2 tablespoons unsalted butter with 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. When butter and oil is hot (butter will start to foam) add the veal and cook until both sides are golden. Transfer the meat to a plate.

Add 1 large carrot and 2 celery stalks that have been diced to the skillet, and cook and stir until they are golden.
Add the porcini and stir into the vegetables.

Return the veal to the skillet and add 1 cup of dry Marsala wine. Cook until the Marsala is almost reduced.

Add 1 cup beef broth, 1 cup canned imported strained tomatoes, domestic tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes and the reserved soaking water. Bring to a boil, cover the skillet with the lid askew, turn heat down to low, and cook until the meat begins to fall away from the bone, 1 1/2 to 2 hours or so. Stir in 2 tablespoons chopped parsley.

Serve with soft polenta, or orzo drizzled or not with saffron oil.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ricotta e Spinaci Gnocchi con Burro e Parmigiano - Ricotta and Spinach Gnocchi with Butter and Parmigiana

Gnocchi is a dish we enjoy eating in this house once in a great while. When I do make them, we always find this version with ricotta and spinach pleasingly addictive.

To make the gnocchi; in a large bowl place 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta, 1 cup of flour (bleached or unbleached. Italian cooks generally use unbleached flour when making pasta and gnocchi. Only difference is color; bleached is whiter), 1 large egg, 2 tablespoons finely chopped cooked spinach, fresh or frozen, 1/2 cup grated parmigiano, 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg and 1 to 2 teaspoons salt. Work it with your hands to mix until all the ingredients stick together forming somewhat of a dough.

Put the mixture on a granite/quartz counter top or wooden board and knead lightly for 2 to 3 minutes, adding gradually up to 1/4 cup of flour if the dough sticks to the counter or your hands. When you have a soft, pliable dough and only a little sticky, divide it into pieces about the size of small oranges:

Using both your hands, roll out each piece of dough with a light back and forth motion:

The dough will stretch out as you roll lightly back and forth with your hands, creating a long thin roll.
You want the thickness about the size of your pinky finger:

Cut each roll into about 1/2 to 1 inch pieces and place the gnocchi on a floured baking sheet.

At this point you can cook them or place them in the fridge uncovered for several hours or even overnight. These gnocchi can be in the fridge longer than traditional potato gnocchi without losing texture, which makes them a great dish to serve when entertaining since they cook so quickly as well.

When ready to cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have a large skillet ready with 4 tablespoons unsalted butter.

Add a tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and the gnocchi. Cook over high heat until the gnocchi float to the top of the water, 1 to 2 minutes. In the meantime, melt the butter in the skillet. When gnocchi are cooked, remove from water with a skimmer or slotted spoon, draining off the excess water over the pot. Put gnocchi in the skillet with the butter and add about 1/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano. Add salt to taste if needed. Stir to coat gnocchi and cook less than a minute. Serve at once. You can top with more parmigiano if desired.

Le Prugne Secche Hanno Cucinato in Marsala - Dried Prunes Cooked in Marsala

The Italians believe that prunes help digestion so that is most likely why they are so popular in Italy both for breakfast and after meals.

To make this simple dish, put 3/4 pounds of dried prunes in a non-reactive saucepan. Add the juice of 1 lemon, 1/3 cup sugar and 1 cup dry Marsala wine. Let stand at room temperature for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Cook the prunes over medium heat, lowering heat as needed to keep a good simmer going as they cook. Cook for about 10 or 15 minutes, until the prunes are tender. Pour into a serving bowl and cool to room temperature before serving. These prunes taste even better the next day. Serve at room temperature. This should be enough to feed 4 people.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Pesche Marinate in Vino Rosso - Peaches Marinated in Red Wine

My favorite way to end a meal is with fruit and/or cheese. This is a very simple and popular Italian preparation. You can marinate peaches, berries, oranges, or cherries in red wine, sweet Marsala wine, or lemon juice and sugar. My fathers favorite way to eat sliced strawberries was by sprinkling them with sugar and marinating them in sweet Marsala wine.

To make this lovely simple dessert; peel, pit and slice one peach per person. I always remove the hard red area on the peach where the pit was since it is tough, rough and not pleasant to bite into. Place sliced peaches in a bowl. If your peaches aren't sweet enough on their own, add granulated sugar to taste. Pour red wine over just to cover fruit; mix gently. Cover bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour. Fill a pretty serving glass, stemmed glass or dessert bowl with peaches and enough wine to almost cover them, serve and enjoy. My favorite wines to use in this dish are VJB Vineyards & Cellars (Kenwood, CA) Syrah or Zinfandel, an Italian imported Lambrusco, or Schugs (Sonoma, CA) Sparkling Pinot. You can also use Prosecco for a different taste.

La Macedonia de Frutta Fresca - Fresh Fruit Salad:

A fresh fruit salad I understand is a favorite way for Italians to end a meal in a Trattoria. It is a favorite way to end my meals at home. Here are some tips to create one in your kitchen; use a variety of fresh fruits that are in season, peel those that need it, and cut all approximately the same size. On the small size, perhaps an inch, and place in a large bowl, add sugar to taste and stir in with sweet Marsala wine, brandy, fresh lemon juice, port, or sweet white wine. It should be refrigerated for an hour or so, and served cold.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Patate Calde in Insalata - Warm Potato Salad

This is another of the really basic, homey dishes of Italy that taste so delicious. The great taste of these simple dishes comes down to the quality of the ingredients you use. This salad is good as an accompaniment to meat, fish or poultry, or even good old American grilled foods. One of my favorite ways to eat it is along with a platter of assorted cheeses and good crusty sour dough bread to soak up the beautiful green extra virgin olive oil I like to drizzle around the platter.

To make this dish: Place 2 pounds of boiling potatoes (old ones will absorb more of the oil and vinegar because they are drier and starchier) in a large saucepan and cover them generously with water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until tender, about 45 minutes to an hour.

Drain the potatoes and then peel them as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Slice them into rounds (not too thick). Place the potatoes in a large bowl and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add 1/3 to 1/2 cup good-quality extra virgin olive oil (this depends on your taste), 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley. Mix well, not worrying if the potatoes break up as you do. Adjust the seasonings if necessary and serve warm.