Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gramigna con la Salsiccia

Emilia Romagna is known in Italy for its strong culinary tradition. This dish exemplifies all that is delicious about the region, and it's rustic comfort food. It is most typically found in or around the countryside of Bologna. Gramigna literally means "little weeds", it is a curly looking kind of egg pasta that is not easily found outside of the region, but you can substitute dried cavatappi or casarecce with good results if you need to. The nice thing about the sausage ragu is that it can easily be prepared in advance and reheated. Perfect for a cold winter evening, it never disappoints.

1 lb. gramigna or 1lb. dried cavatappi or casarecce

For the sauce:
1 1/2 - 2 lbs. sweet Italian sausage
3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 carrot minced
1 clove minced garlic
 2-3 sage leaves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
1 lb. roma tomatoes chopped or 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes with their liquid
1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

In a large skillet, brown the sausage meat which you will remove from its casing. As the sausage is browning, break it apart into small pieces as you stir with a wooden spoon. This should take about 15 minutes. Then, remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Leave the drippings in the pan. Next add the olive oil to the skillet keeping the heat to medium. Add the carrot, onion, garlic, and parsley, and saute for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to brown and become golden.

  Next, add the sausage back into to pan with the sage, stir for a few minutes. Then, add the tomato paste and the wine. Bring to a low boil, stirring often for about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and leave the sauce mostly unattended for another 10-15 minutes. Stirring  occasionally. Finally, add the chopped tomatoes (either fresh or from a can), and bring the sauce back to a boil. Return to simmer and stir often for about 5-10 minutes. You probably don't need to add salt, but do taste to check for seasoning.

  While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a strong boil. Drop in the pasta, and cook according to package directions or desired doneness. It should be al dente.  When pasta is done drain it in a colander. 

Once the sauce is ready, Add the pasta to the skillet along with about half of the grated parmigiano reggiano cheese. Toss to combine completely. Then serve your pasta family style in a large serving dish, or in individual pasta bowls, with the remaining cheese dusted on top. Serve with a nice warm baguette to enjoy with any remaining sauce, and a nice bottle of red wine such as a sangiovese or chianti.
Buon Appetito! Enjoy!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Zucchine ripiene

This recipe is somewhat hard to define,because it contains meat and vegetable and it could either be an antipasto or an excellent main course. Zucchini is another incredibly versatile vegetable. I can think of at least five or six different ways of cooking them in an exquisite and tasty way. You can obviously fry zucchini, saute   them, you can mince them and make an incredible risotto, the possibilities are endless. I wanted to introduce this specific recipe because I thought that the combination on vegetable and meat has always given me great satisfaction.


5 medium size zucchini
1 egg yolk
1 whole egg
10 ounces of mix of ground veal and pork
3 tbsp of fresh Parmesan cheese
1 whole boiled potato

For the tomato sauce:

1 can of crushed tomatoes
1 onion
1 tbsp oil of olive

The first step is to hollow the zucchini with a sharp knife. Make sure to make the hole inside a good size, so the meat filling can fit well. Then, in a bowl, combine the ground veal and pork, eggs, boiled potato, Parmesan cheese, grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Next we will stir the mixture. Meanwhile you need to prepare the tomato sauce in a pan. First  put a little olive oil, then add the finely chopped onions and the chopped tomatoes. Season with salt. Th final step is to stuff the zucchini with the mixture of meat and add it to the skillet with the tomato sauce. Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Spaghetti alla busara

It's no mystery, by now, to whomever reads this blog , that I love seafood. Seafood is, for the most part extremely healthy. It is also very versatile, in the way that it can be prepared in a multitude of ways with different combinations and  ideas, according to everyone's creativity. I'm also a big fan of shellfish and I like the fact that you can find different kinds of seafood in different parts of the world. It gives us a nice excuse to travel around. ( I know TV is already saturated with food adventurers and travelers of every sort..) This particular pasta I'm introducing finds its roots in the Adriatic Sea. There are a lot of different varieties of shellfish, but the best scampi were to be found on the Dalmatian coast in the past 100 years, specifically on the waters adjacent the city of Fiume, once Italian now belonging to Croatia, named Rijeka. We settled for a more modest quality of scampi, but the process and the different ingredients are a perfect combination to give this delicious plate a variety of flavors, whether is summer or winter.

Ingredients :

2 lbs of fresh scampi ( frozen , imported are also okay)
2 cups of fresh tomato sauce
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup of breadcrumbs
1/3 of a cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of parsley finely minced
1 cup of white wine
1 box of spaghetti

Start by letting the oil simmer in a large pan and add the two garlic cloves, until they get golden color. Add the scampi one by one. Let them cook slowly for ten minutes, gently moving them from side to side. At this time it is also a good idea to put the pasta to boil on a separate pot. Make sure you read the cooking time for the pasta, to avoid having overcooked , mushy spaghetti. When the scampi reach a nice pink color, you can add the wine, slowly pouring it around the whole pan. Let the wine evaporate gently for about three minutes. Then, sprinkle the breadcrumbs around the scampi and next the parsley, always trying to spread it evenly. The last step is to add the tomato sauce with a large spoon. After the sauce with the tomato has simmered for five minutes, it is now time to add the spaghetti, which should have been already cooked and strained. Mix gently the pasta with the scampi and sauce and serve with a nice chilled white wine.

check out the video of this recipe on our youtube channel !
  Spaghetti alla Busara

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Risotto al nero di seppia

Risotto has always been a very interesting dish to cook, because as in many other Italian dishes, one can be very creative in using different ingredients and combinations. My "comfort food" type of risotto has always been risotto with peas, easy to make and very tasty. However, since I came from a traditional seafood oriented city, there are a lot of variations that are worth mentioning. Many restaurants located along the Italian coast create incredibly tasty seafood risotto. The beauty of it is that you can use the fresh seafood locally found and use it as a main ingredient. Some of these restaurants have been doing it for such a long time that they have a long tradition. Trying to replicate their recipes is virtually impossible. It is worth mentioning that this particular staple is relatively new to Italy, where in asian countries rice has been grown and consumed for about 7000 years and is still nowadays one of the major components of asian cuisine. Today I 'd like to introduce an interesting variation of risotto, made with cuttlefish and squid ink, hence the black coloration in the final result. The black ink doesn't give out significant flavor to the final product, but the cuttlesfish tastes really good and pleasing for those who are really into seafood.

Ingredients :

1 and 1/2 Onion
1/2 Carrot
1 pound of cleaned cuttlefish (you can use calamari instead)
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 packets of squid ink available at fish markets or specialty stores
1 and 1/2 cups of arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

Before beginning to cook the risotto, bring about 3 quarts of water to a boil, and and drop the peeled onion and half carrot inside. This is to serve as the broth you will use to cook the risotto. Let it continue to boil as you prepare the rest of the ingredients. After about 20 minutes, reduce it to a simmer.

To make the risotto, in a large saute pan, heat the olive oil. When the olive oil is nice and hot, add the diced onion and stir it occasionally until the onion is soft, about 5-10 minutes. Next, add the rice to the onion/olive oil mixture, and let it brown for about 2 minutes, stirring nearly constantly. At this point you are ready to add the two packets of squid ink and the pound of cuttlefish, which you will have cleaned and cut into strips a little less than a centimeter wide. Stir to combine.

Now you will add the cup of wine to the mixture, along with the broth you made with the onion and carrot. Ladle the broth into the mixture until the rice is just covered. Continue stirring pretty much constantly for about 15 minutes. As cooking liquid is absorbed, add more broth as needed. Continue stirring and cooking until the rice is soft, but not mushy. It should be al dente. When the rice is nearly done, season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in the butter and parsley. Your risotto is now ready to serve. This dish pairs particularly well with a nice prosecco, or other dry sparkling wine you prefer. Buon Appetito! Enjoy!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Olive Ascolane

Olive ascolane are deliciously stuffed green olives which are breaded and fried. They are originally from the Le Marche region of Italy. Thankfully, they are widely found all over Italy, and are easily made at home. In Italy, I would mostly enjoy them as an appetizer at a pizzeria. Olive ascolane are a great crowd pleasing appetizer. All the work can be done ahead of time, so they can just be quickly dropped in the fryer when you're ready to eat and enjoy. While the ideal olive to use for this recipe is the original from Ascoli, they are not available where I live. I have found success with this recipe using other kinds of green olive. I usually try to find a jar of nice, large, green olives. The ones I find are usually from Spain. If they have a pit, of course you need to pit them. I usually end up buying the ones that are stuffed with pimiento peppers, and then I just easily take those out, and the olive has a nice cavity ready to fill.

Ingredients for about 100 olives:
I large jar of green olives
canola oil or other oil for frying

for the filling:
1 carrot, diced
1/2 onion diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1/4 lb ground beef
1/4 lb ground pork
1/4 lb. ground chicken
salt to taste
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 egg for filling, plus 2 or more for coating olives
2 pieces white bread, crust removed, torn into small crumbles
extra virgin olive oil

to coat the olives:
bread crumbs

To make the filling, first make a soffritto, by finely chopping the carrot, onion, celery and onion in a mixer. Saute the mixture in extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet until it is soft. Then add the ground beef, pork, and chicken. When the meat is browned, add salt to taste, then add the 1/2 cup of white wine. Stir often over medium heat until the wine has been absorbed.  At this point remove the meat mixture from the heat and let it cool.

Once the meat mixture has cooled, put it in your mixer and pulse it until it becomes homogeneous. Then put it in a mixing bowl, and add the egg, parmigiano reggiano cheese, and the two pieces of bread that you have crumbled into pieces. Stir the ingredients until they are thoroughly combined, and then leave it rest for about 30 minutes.

Get your olives ready to be stuffed. Remove pits, or any peppers, etc. the olive may have had. Prepare three small bowls to coat them first flour, then eggs, then bread crumbs. Start with two eggs, and beat them with a whisk. You may need to put more egg later, depending on how many olives you are making.

Fill each olive with as much filling as you can fit inside of it, I find a demi spoon and fingers work best. Dip each stuffed olive first in the flour, then in the egg, and finally a generous coating of the bread crumbs. After all of the olives have been coated in bread crumbs, let them rest for about 30 minutes. Then, I recommend giving each olive another egg and bread crumb coating. This will make them extra crunchy and tasty. If you are short on time, you can just do the one coating, but it's better to do them both.

Finally, heat your oil in the fryer until it is nice and hot, about 360 degrees. Drop the olives in the oil in small batches, and fry them for about 2-3 minutes, until they have a nice uniform golden brown color. When they are done, remove them and set them in a dish lined with a paper towel to absorb any excess oil. Serve them hot, and be amazed how quickly they will disappear as your guests enjoy them. They are really versatile, and taste great with beer, wine, or any other favorite beverage.
Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Brasato di Manzo al Sangiovese

Brasato di manzo simply means braised beef in Italian. Nothing can be more comforting or satisfying than a delicious piece of meat that has slowly tenderized after hours of simmering. This is the perfect meal to enjoy on a chilly winter day, or any time you have a need for rustic cuisine. When I prepare this dish, I like to braise the meat for about 3 hours, until it is perfectly tender and delightful. And while I look forward to the meal to come as the cooking aroma fills the house, just as wonderful as the main course is the leftovers to follow.  I usually serve the short ribs with some oven roasted fingerling potatoes as a side dish. Luckily, there is always lots of sauce/braising liquid left over at the end. For a future meal, you can reduce the braising liquid to a nice consistency for a pasta sauce. Cut up any leftover short ribs into small pieces, and add it to the sauce. Serve over a nice egg pasta such as pappardelle with a generous dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano on top. Can't be beat!

4 large short ribs, about 10 inches each, cut half into 8 smaller pieces
1 onion diced
1 carrot diced
1 celery stalk diced
1 28 oz. can crushed or chopped tomatoes. I prefer crushed.
1 bottle Italian red wine, a Sangiovese works well.
1 sprig fresh rosemary
32 oz. beef stock
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
sea salt

Before cooking, generously season your short ribs with salt and pepper. In a 5.5 quart skillet, or other similar size cooking vessel, heat the olive oil until very hot. Brown the short ribs on all sides. This should take about 10 minutes. Once ribs have a nice sear, remove them from the skillet, and set aside.

In the same sauce pan, keep the heat high, and add the diced carrot, onion, and celery. Stir often until they soften and begin to take on a nice golden color, probably about 5 minutes. When they look ready, add the can of crushed tomatoes, the bottle of wine and the rosemary. I chop the rosemary finely. Stir well, being sure that all the ingredients combine. When sauce comes to a boil, I often choose to add a little bit of sugar, maybe two tablespoons, to take away any unwanted acidity from the tomatoes.

Next, return the short ribs to the skillet, and pour in the beef stock until the ribs are just about covered. Once the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cover the skillet and allow the ribs to simmer for about three hours. Stir occasionally.  The meat should become very, very tender.

Once the meat has cooked for the necessary amount of time, remove it from the skillet and set aside. Then, leaving the sauce uncovered, turn the heat up, and allow it reduce to a nice thick consistency. Right before serving, return the ribs to the sauce for a few minutes to reheat. Then serve the short rib on a plate with a generous helping of sauce on top. As I said, roasted fingerling potatoes are a great accompaniment. Also, a nice baguette is perfect for sweeping up any remaining sauce. Don't forget to treat yourself to a nice bottle of red wine to go with. You could stick to a nice Sangiovese, or go for a nice Brunello di Montalcino.

Most importantly, once the meal is over, and the leftover sauce is cooled, put it away and save it for your future meal as a sauce over pappardelle.

Enjoy your meal. You are in for a real treat. :)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Seppie in umido con polenta

Seafood had always been a passion of mine and a costant presence in my family cooking. Besides being, for the most part, healthy and fairly simple to cook, seafood allows a certain degree of creativity and versatility. One element of cooking that I particularly value and enjoy is the simple ingredients and the way of cooking them. This finds its root in very poor generations of families during war times and other periods of economic depression, where families had to use ingredients found locally at a very cheap price. By default these ingredients had to be extremely fresh. These two elements, in my opinion, happen to be two golden rules of successful and delicious recipes, fresh and local ingredients. This is particularly true with the recipe I chose today. In fact I found it very "interesting" for a lack of a better word, how traditional poor people food, so tasty and authentic, got so "glamorous" and "trendy" in so many restaurants worldwide. Cornmeal should not be very expensive at all, but call it "polenta" and it assumes a whole different connotation. I think this phenomena has affected the wine culture as well, where something so simple and enjoyable, became "trendy" and, as a  consequence, more expensive.
One other interesting but fun challenge I came accross lately is the generalization of some food, seafood in this case. I used cuttlefish for this recipe, but many friends were suggesting that squid was what I needed, where in fact "seppie" and "calamari" are very distinct types of fish, even if they belong to the same family :)
In many Venetian restaurants seppie are very popular prepared grilled, cooked with risotto with black ink ( coming soon here) and, of course, with tomato sauce and polenta.


1.5 lbs of cuttlefish
1.5 lbs of chopped fresh toamtoes
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1/2 onion diced
1 garlic clove
extra virgin olive oil

For the Polenta:
500 grams of corn flour
8 cups water

After having cleaned the cuttlefish, cut them into strips no larger than half an inch thick. In a large pot simmer the oil together with the garlic clove finely minced and the onion, until both are of a  golden color. Next add the cuttlefish and let them cook covered at a medium temperature for about 5 minutes, until they release some juice. Add the white wine and let it simmer for another two minutes. Finally, add the tomatoes and let it cook for another 15 minutes. If the sauce dries up fast, add the a little water, but the consistency at the end should not be too liquid.
For the polenta, many people reccomend the white one. I chose the yellow one, because I like the taste and it adds a nice color contrast to the presentation.
The traditional method for making polenta involves cooking it slowly on the stovetop until it thickens to the appropriate texture. This method requires constant stirring to avoid having the polenta stick to the pot.
Start by boiling water in a deep pot, pouring a spoonful of salt. Next drop the flour stirring constantly with a whisk. When everything is dissolved and homogeneous, cook stirring constantly for about an hour with a special wooden stick and lifting the polenta from the bottom up. The polenta is cooked when the edges begin to peel off. If it becomes too thick during cooking, add a little boiling water. Pour the cooked polenta into the appropriate platter and serve hot. You can also buy ready made polenta at the store and the mixing process would be much faster. Pair up with a nice white wine of your choice.