Posts Tagged ‘Italian’

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Delicate balance. (POTATO FRITTATA)

January 26, 2015

ucc_frittata_triangles

Lots of resolutions here. First, I resolve to ignore my blog less. As life is a bombardment of experiences, and I am always hungry for them, the time to stop and write about the thing I love to do most (cook!) escapes me frequently. And because I love to tell stories about cooking/eating adventures I need to practice it more. Hopefully these stories, inspired by experiences, help people to cook/eat well or better! I promise to exercise these meta things.

I have been meaning to write about frittatas for a long time, ever since my friend runningwithreilly and I made a frittata-making video. It’s weird. Why I am whispering at the frittata, we may never know.

Normally in an an 9 inch skillet I would use seven or eight eggs for a thickish round, full of chunked vegetables, cheese, greens or all three. This very different, authentically Italian version, inspired by a chef/colleague‘s mama, uses a mere three eggs and paper thin potatoes fried in the skillet before pouring the few seasoned eggs over. A refinement! I like my own method as well, it yields a hearty product, but this one is nice in many ways. It’s one of those five-ingredient recipes that achieves harmony. Each ingredient is used with a light hand, and together they are solid.

ucc_frittata_round

It would be great with martinis. Or maybe wrapped around the straw of a Bloody.

 

MAMA’S FRITTATA

serves 4

1 potato

1 tablespoon cooking oil

small pat of butter

3 eggs

2 tablespoons milk or water

1 small clove of garlic, minced

salt and pepper

1 tablespoon of your favorite green herb, chopped

  • Warm the oil and butter in a 9 or 10 inch skillet (preferably cast iron or non-stick). Meanwhile slice the potato thinly on a mandolin or with a sharp knife. Place the potatoes in the skillet and allow to cook on both sides until brown and crisp in places but still pliable.
  • Whisk the eggs in a small bowl with the milk or water, garlic and a bit of salt and pepper. When potatoes are cooked, pour the eggs over and swirl around in the pan so they coat it evenly.
  • Sprinkle the herbs over.
  • When the bottom of the frittata is set, place a dinner plate over the skillet. With one hand holding the plate in place, use the other hand to flip the skillet (along with the plate) to invert the frittata onto the plate. The cooked side should be up and runny side down.
  • Slide the frittata back into the skillet (keeping runny side down) to finish cooking the bottom .*
  • Transfer the finished product to a plate or cutting board, slice and serve drizzled with some olive oil.

*if your cookware will allow high heat (i.e. cast iron) the alternative to the janky flip is to place the skillet under the broiler after the bottom has set to finish cooking the top with the direct heat. Just be sure to keep a very close eye on it and take it out when just firm.

 

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New traditions. (MUSSELS IN CHORIZO AND BEER)

December 30, 2012

mussels_pic

When the Saints played the Colts in Superbowl XLIV (2010) I made up this dish, Mussels in Chorizo and Beer. It was the product of us being in a foreign neighborhood and running around trying to find cool ingredients for an extraordinary Superbowl concoction to make at our friends’ place. While it was being eaten almost no one yelled at the TV.

Even though it has no particular cultural alliance, once the mussels and chorizo came together I felt like it was reminiscent of something my Italian grandparents or great grandparents would have served back in the day. Back when Sundays were still a red sauce based, all day eating affair and calamari with the tentacles still totally freaked me out. (The ‘rubber bands’ were okay though.) All of my aunts, uncles and cousins would fight for a seat in the dining room, the losers sent to the card table parked in the back bedroom. I was the youngest and had my choice of laps to sit on, a great strategy especially at dessert.

The Christmas after that gourmet Superbowl when my cousins and I decided to honor the Feast of the Seven Fishes, I knew exactly what my contribution would be. We simmered pounds and pounds (and pounds and pounds) of mussels in the garlicky tomato sauce studded with spiced sausage. A side of pasta for folks like my dad and sliced up focaccia for the dunkers. The table groaned under six more fish, two more pasta dishes, salads and sides galore. It was a beautiful sight. All of the foods we were most excited about, all at once.

In more recent years we have experimented with some other seafoods and we have learned how to reign it in. This year, back by popular demand, we made the mussels again. I think they might become a regular addition to the table. We have some traditions and they are not strict, but it is sure that favorites will make an appearance; manicotti, antipasto with the biggest hunk of Parmiggiano you have ever seen, killer seafood salad, rum cake. Somehow even a platter of sushi has made it into the yearly mix. Our feast grows and changes a bit each Christmas, as does our family and by the same token it has a strong foundation in our history and represents the memories we share however hazy they may be. (Next year I promise to nail down the recipe for Pete’s Seafood Salad That We Think Grandma Used To Make.) The resulting dinner, both nostalgic and new, reflects everyone who has participated in it. And out of love, it also reflects all of those who eat it.

MUSSELS IN CHORIZO AND BEER

1 pound chorizo or hot Italian sausage

1 tablespoon butter

1 onion, chopped

2 shallots, chopped

1 tablespoon fennel seed

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large can chopped tomatoes

1 can beer

1/4 cup fresh dill or other fresh herb

4 pounds mussels, scrubbed

salt and pepper

  • Cook chorizo in a large saucepan, breaking it up into pieces until browned.
  • Remove meat with a slotted spoon and drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat.
  • Add butter to the saucepan and sautee onion, shallot, red pepper flakes and fennel seed with a touch of salt and pepper.
  • Stir in garlic and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and add beer and dill.
  • Bring to a boil again and add mussels.
  • When most of the mussels have opened and are cooked through, Remove them and arrange in a large serving dish. Pick out and discard any mussels that have not opened.
  • Boil the tomato mixture for about 3 minutes, add the chorizo back in and heat through.
  • Season well and pour over the mussels in the dish.

Serve with bread for dipping.

(Photo courtesy of Jackii Laurenzano)

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YOU GOT VERJUICE NOW, MAN. (VERJUS)

April 13, 2012
Used Grapes. Gouache and pencil on paper bag
(This is a reprinted article I wrote a while back (6/16/08) for a site called cookingdistrict.com, formerly gigachef.com. I edited a bit of the blahblah but it’s still good stuff.)
    Verjuice is the slightly sweet, slightly tart juice of unripened wine grapes. It is bottled like vinegar or wine but it is neither fermented nor does it have an alcoholic content. The word verjuice or verjus is derived from the French word pairing ‘vert jus’ translated ‘green juice’ meaning the liquid pressed from unripened wine grapes. It will last for several years unopened, deepening in fruitiness and color while it ages. Once uncorked, it has only a few months to last in the refrigerator since it is an unfermented product and does not have the same stability as a fermented one. Its applications are wide and open to creativity.
    When used to deglaze the pan after roasting or sauteing meat or vegetables, the natural sugars in the young grapes help caramelize the leftover bits beautifully. In salad dressings, verjuice will not compete with wine being served, unlike vinegar or lemon which infamously sour the palate. The touch of acidity brightens soups, sauces and in my recipe-tweaking opinion,  goes swimmingly well with seafood. Dishes that normally call for white wine benefit from verjuice’s fruity, roundness without having to ‘cook out’ any of the alcoholic essence. Seemingly it shines in pared down recipes where the goal is to use just a few ingredients that are unique and/or possess some special quality that takes a simple dish to the next level.
    I like to splash some into the pan when wilting greens or as a part of a marinade. Not only a real winner* for savory courses, it can be used to poach or macerate fresh fruit or make a mean glaze when buddied up with some sugar.
    Verjuice is not a new ingredient. Its appearance in cooking dates back to the 1300’s. Now it is making a comeback for its merits of playing nicely with wine as well as the many above-mentioned uses. Though historically it appears in European and Middle Eastern cooking, an Australian chef, Maggie Beer, is credited with bringing it back to modern kitchens. She bottles and sells verjuice from her country’s Barossa Valley but most wine producing regions have their versions too: California, France, Italy (where it is called agresto), South Africa and locally here in New York on Long Island (Wolffer Estate), my personal favorite. Like everything, verjuice can be purchased online but also look out for it in wine shops and gourmet groceries.
Oh, and sometimes it is used for drinking straight up… or maybe on the rocks.
* I vaguely remember enjoying heavy use of the phrase ‘a real winner’ back in ’08.

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A second impression. (RICOTTA + FIG EMPANADAS)

April 16, 2011

Here’s the thing about empanadas, you can stuff just about anything you can imagine in there. Traditional fillings include beef, chicken, cheese, tuna, guava, spinach, etc. Though empanadas seem like a big project to undertake, if you cheat a little and buy the dough circles  pre-made*, they are quick and easy to the point where I actually made them for breakfast and believe me, I am not good for much in the morning. Truth be told, I made the fig jam the night before. Even better.

If you happen upon a set of flavors that sounds especially good, with a little engineering, it can usually serve as perfectly great filling. In the first run of this sweet, slightly savory combo of homemade ‘fig jam’ with rosemary and ricotta, my oversight was that I didn’t mix the fruit and the cheese together. It was as if they were divorced. The empanada was filled on one side was straight fig puree and the other was rather bland and plain soft cheese. There was potential but no real pow.

On the second try I reconciled the two sides, stirring them together in a bowl, adding some lemon rind and salt to brighten up the day. Not only did it save a step in assembly, it worked out great. Inside the crisp empanada lived a creamy, tart-sweet epicenter, a way better result than the first. We couldn’t keep our hands off of them, the true test of an empanada’s success.

After including the new tweaks, I added  an extra step to the recipe. A direction I would like to use in all of my recipes at various points; ‘Taste it!’ It is unbelievable how often people fail to taste something as they are making it. By tasting often, the cook remains in complete control of where a dish is going…. and, most importantly, how it arrives.

FIG and ROSEMARY EMPANADA with RICOTTA CHEESE

(makes 20 empanadas)

for Fig and Rosemary Quick Jam:

10 ounces dried black mission figs (about 2 cups), stems removed

3 tablespoons sugar

3 sprigs rosemary

1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • Place figs, sugar,  rosemary sprigs and 1.5 cups of water in saucepan and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat and simmer until most of liquid is evaporated and figs are easily pierced with/ a knife, 20-30 minutes. Remove rosemary stems.
  • Transfer mixture to a food processor, add lemon juice and puree until smooth, adding up to 1/4 cup additional water to thin if needed. The final product should be like a thick spread. Store in the fridge up to one month.

for Empanadas:

20 empanada dough discs or 1 package (2 sheets) of puff pastry, thawed

1 egg, beaten

1 pound fresh ricotta cheese

1 recipe Fig Rosemary Quick Jam

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 pinch salt

1/4 cup flour

  • Preheat the oven to 350F.
  • In a bowl, combine the cooled fig jam with the ricotta, lemon zest and a pinch of salt. Taste it! Adjust.
  • Lay a dough disc on a lightly floured surface. (If using puff pastry, roll out the dough a little and punch 10 four inch circles from each sheet). 
  • Brush half of a disc with beaten egg.
  • On the other half of the disc, spoon two heaping tablespoons of fig/ricotta mixture.
  • Fold the dough over the filling and pinch the dough to make a scalloped edge. Alternatively, seal the edge with the tines of a fork. 
  • Place the empanada on a baking sheet and brush with egg wash. Repeat with the rest of the dough/filling.
  • Bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes.

* Discos are found in the freezer section.

They didn’t last until lunch… that’s what I’m talking about.

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The old hand chop. (SALSA VERDE)

January 26, 2011

Fresh herbs are such a huge part of cooking that I deem the lesson of hand-chopping a valuable one. Herbs should be sliced, not mangled. They should not be wet nor heavy and should not be bleeding into a sad puddle of green. The key to this task is a sharp knife and a confident cut. I impart this lesson via video in the initial steps of a recipe for briny, herbaceous Salsa Verde in the Italian style. Boosting the flavor are anchovies, capers, dijon as opposed  to a Mexican or South American variety which would have tomatillos, jalapeños, cilantro providing the verde.

Sure, all of the ingredients could go into a food processor and get pulverized into a delicious sauce but that would be cheating. When I include this classic Salsa on the menu for my D.I.Y. Brunch class, I use it as a shining example of slow cooking and the perfect dish to get students’ herb chopping skills in order. Properly chopped, the ingredients retain a fine texture and truly come alive on the palate. Accompanied by the salty, vinegary seasoning, it is a beautiful balancing act.

At Brunch we layer the Salsa onto bagels with cream cheese accompanied by pickled onions, smoked salmon and cucumbers but it is also delicious sauced onto seared or grilled meat and fish or as a dip/dressing for fresh veggies. Though a bit more tedious than loading up the food processor, the fine hand chopping makes a huge difference in the final product. This recipe is always a standout. Each time I ask around, all participants agree that it is worth the extra muscular effort.

SALSA VERDE

1 clove garlic, peeled and grated

3 tablespoons capers, finely chopped

5-6 anchovy filets, finely chopped

2 cups fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped

1 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

1 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 cup extra virgin live oil

salt and pepper

• Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl except for the olive oil. Give everything one very good chop together so items are combined and very fine.
• Place the mixture back in the bowl and stir in the olive oil until desired consistency.
• Season with salt and pepper and balance the flavors with more vinegar or oil as needed.

Salsa Verde on sliced ribeye with Pounded Cauliflower. It could have been nice stirred into the cauliflower too. Ah! Decisions, decisions…..

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Simple Pleasures. (ENDIVE SALAD)

June 12, 2010

‘Simple pleasure’ surely means different things to different people. It’s a sort of Hallmark-y title for a post, which is not my usual style, but there are reasons the phrase stuck. I have reasons. Simple: nothing more than a knife was needed to create this dish. It took about five minutes total. I used only the tiniest of cutting boards, leading to tiny clean-up. Six ingredients, all ready-to-eat, created a perfect flavor balance, but that is getting into pleasure. Pleasure: flawless local strawberries and a craving for slightly bitter endive that looked great at the supermarket. It was a coincidence that the perfect cheese to go with the salad was in my fridge, capra (goat) cheese infused with honey, and coincidences bring me great pleasure. Magical ingredient crema di balsamico* on top of my favorite arbequina Spanish olive oil….and the peppermill was full (refilling that thing can be so annoying), the opportunity to stop for a minute and share a bitter and sweet salad with my dear friend, all added up to aforementioned sappy phrase. Please refer to title.

ENDIVE SALAD, STRAWBERRIES and CREMA DI BALSAMICO

Serves 2.

2 heads Belgian endive

1 large handful of strawberries, hulled and sliced

2 tablespoons good olive oil

6 turns of the peppermill

2 generous drizzles of crema di balsamico*

1/4 cup (approximately) soft goat cheese with or without a drizzle of honey stirred in

  • Peel one layer of outer leaves from endive and discard (they are usually bruised slightly).
  • Chop the endive crosswise into one inch pieces and separate the leaves with your fingers. Divide leaves between two plates.
  • Top salads with strawberries and drizzle with olive oil. Three turns of the peppermill over each plate, or to taste.
  • Decorate with cream di balsamico and drop cheese on top in haphazard chunks.

*Crema di balsamico is a delicious sweet-tart vinegar product which is made by a reduction of balsamic vinegar and Trebbiano grape must. Trebbiano grapes are the variety used in making balsamic vinegar and must refers to the pressed juice of the entire grape; skin, seeds and stems included. The result is a thick smooth liquid that needs no help in enhancing the flavors of cured meats, cheeses, fruit or vegetables. It can be used all alone as a glaze, dressing or garnish…a great secret weapon to have on hand. Available online or, if you’re local where I’m local, at Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market.

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Pizza heaven is near. (ARTICHOKE PIZZA)

March 28, 2010

Artichoke Basille’s Pizza & Brewery 328 East 14th Street , NYC  •  (212) 228-2004.

This is what I have done on various occasions, I have forced friends and loved ones to walk blocks -many blocks- out of their way for a slice of this stuff. In snow or rain, in inebriation or in just plain hunger, bringing someone important in my life to the gates of pizza heaven and then pushing them inside, o the happy joy! The authentic deliciousness of Artichoke is why, at any given moment of the night or day, there are straggles of people on 14th street lapping food off of paper plates or worse yet, massive, squirming lines waiting to eat. There is no inside seating, just a couple of counters, there is no long and useless menu, just four kinds of pizza. Perfect, delicious, unbelievable pizza in varieties like regular, Sicilian, crab and artichoke.

The first one I sampled was the namesake artichoke slice and it was kind of like eating a sofa. Pillowy and the wrong kind of chewy, full of heavy white ingredients like cream and ricotta with this big doughy crust, etc. And, while I was eating (outside the joint) some kids walked by and one of the kids was especially freaking out, yelling at people for eating this ‘burnt-ass’ rip-off pizza. He was really upset. He emphatically taunted pizza eaters his whole way to the corner. I felt  it was his right as a New Yorker to go into a tirade about his pizza opinion, but I can’t help but hope he gives it another chance, as I did.

Next time(s) around I avoided the artichoke and went for any of the other varieties and quickly, deeply have fallen in love. These Staten Island boys have figured out the oven type/temp and the ace recipe to produce the perfect cragged crust, bathed in perfect amounts of oil (which actually render your paper plate transparent) and an amazing, assertive red sauce, so hard to find but so obvious when you do that it’s nostalgic even. Toppings of  good salty cheese and fresh basil leaves make the combination of ingredients and textures attract and repel like two S.I. cousins out on a Saturday night. For reals.

So what if there’s a huge line, that’s what makes it extra-special when it’s all yours. So what if is three bucks fifty, slices are huge and I have had $4 slices in much worse places (sorry that NYC thinks it’s so special these days). Artichoke is open late and it produces righteous pizza. Makes me realize it’s high time I started to make up for all the mediocre stuff I’ve eaten over the years.  The shop is conveniently located on 14th Street just east of 1st Ave, I dare myself to avoid it when I am within a 10 block radius and I can’t (unless there is above-illustrated line). It really comes down to the fact that I love pizza because pizza, like few other things, even when it’s bad…it’s still kinda good. And when it’s great, it’s mind-blowing.

Sicilian.