Appetizers

Cooking in Italy: when in Rome, do zucchini like the Romans

what keeps me coming back to Rome
what keeps me coming back to Rome

Most people come to Rome for the sights, history, culture, art. I come for the zucchini. Roman zucchini are light green, grooved, tender affairs of perfection and joy which are always present on my birthday table.

You see, I share my birthday with the one of my sisters, Camilla, who still lives in Rome. We saw the light 3 years apart to the day and we have a tradition of celebrating together.

Camilla lives in Testaccio with her husband and 2 children, steps away from the famed mercato where yesterday morning I found the zucchini pictured here.

They are featured below in one of my favorite summer creations.

This week I am in Abruzzo, guest of the makers of pasta Rustichella. We just finished our first day of sight seeing and amazing food, you can follow this great food and culture trip on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Next week to Rome again, then on to Maremma where I can get ready for that lucky group of 12 who will be discovering this magical area with me in September. There are still a few spots on the tour, for more information email discovermaremma@gmail.com


Insalata di zucchine crude ai profumi d'estate

Summer scented raw zucchini salad

 

6 small light green or yellow zucchini or a mix of the 2

1/2 a small red onion

salt

1 lemon

1/4 cup almonds or other nuts

1 handful basil with flowers pepper to taste

olive oil

 

Using a mandolin, a shaver or a very sharp knife, slice the zucchini and onion paper thin into a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and douse with lemon juice.

Toss well, cover and set aside and let stand while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

Blanch the almonds in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Slide them out of the skin and toast them at 325˚F until a golden beige. When cool, slice them.

Pick and wash the basil leaves, dry them carefully, stack them, roll them longitudinally and cut them into thin ribbons.

When ready to serve the salad, add the almond and basil and toss well. Dress with olive oil season with pepper. Toss again and adjust seasoning if necessary.

NOTES:

  • Feel free to sub basil for mint or young parsley, or even tarragon or chervil
  • I love almonds with this one, but if you have other nuts to use, please do not run out shopping for almonds

Tomato girl, part 2

Still tomato girl this week, I doubt I will really move on until I can my last SanMarzano in early October. I have moved away from carby dishes and have been playing with my tomatoes in flavor combinations that surprised me with their success. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have been.

I am off to Italy on Sunday until the end of August. Find me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to keep up with tales and shots of food from the motherland. I promise it will be more than tomatoes.

Zuppa fredda di pomodoro e erbe al limone

Lemon scented tomato and herb cold soup

for 4 to 6 people

about 1 pound very ripe tomatoes of any kind

combination of any of the following herbs:

basil, parsley, mint, tarragon, oregano, marjoram, cilantro

fresh lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste olive oil

This is to use all the tomatoes that get squashed in the bottom of your bag when you walk home with your groceries, or for those tomatoes that are just a little moldy but can be partially salvaged, or that simply get overripe sitting on your counter.

I don’t have any proportions for this and I doubt I have made it the same way twice. Judge the smell, feel of it and, mostly, trust your taste, because ultimately anything you cook is successful if you like it and it makes you happy.

Chunk the tomatoes and roughly chop the herbs.

Place both in a blender with some lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Stream in a bit of olive oil and blend until it is a somewhat rough purèe.

You can adjust the consistency with water if it seems too thick.

This should be served in bowls, from which your guests can drink or eat depending on how runny it is.

Pomodori II.JPG

NOTES

  • I like to accompany this with some pan fried tortillas and offer a bowl of feta cheese alongside it for sprinkling on top
  • Other things you can add are a bit of onion or garlic-make sure they are minced into a paste, some heat-fresh chili, red pepper flakes, cayenne, pimenton, a few capers or some chopped olives
  • I suppose you can also spike it with a generous splash of something strong and dry

Insalata di melone, pomodori e cetriolo

Melon, tomato and cucumber salad

for 4 people

1 small sweet melon

2 ripe tomatoes (or 1.5 cups cherry tomatoes)

1 small cucumber

1 handful mint leaves

1/4 cup pistachios

2 to 3 very thin red onion slices (optional)

1 Meyer lemon

1 handful mint leaves

salt, pepper and olive oil to taste

 

Slice, peel and chunk the melon.

Wedge the tomatoes (or halve if using cherry tomatoes).

Slice the cucumber thinly.

Make paper thin half moons of the onion, if you decide to add it

Stack and roll the mint leaves longitudinally then cut in very thin ribbons.

Chop the pistachios fairly finely.

Arrange the melon, tomatoes and cucumber on a platter.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Scatter the onion slices over the platter and generously douse everything with lemon juice.

Toss lightly and drizzle with olive oil.

Garnish with the mint ribbons and pistachios. Serve slightly cold.

Charentais melons

Charentais melons

NOTES

  • I used charentais melons for this, they are smallish, their skin is smooth of a grayish green with darker green blurry lines running longitudinally at regular intervals
  • For the tomatoes, Cherokee Purples are my favorite in this salad, but I have also made it with Cherry, Beefsteak and Green Zebra
  • You can switch basil for mint or almonds for pistachios

Summer cooking: Insalata di Riso Cold rice salad

Summer is here and with it the shroud of fog over anywhere near water in perfect-not-so-sunny San Francisco. But I live in the Mission and so I enjoy a micro-climate that makes me hunger for the dishes my mother packed for our daylong summer picnics. Speaking of picnics, there surely will be one on this stunning beach featuring this very recipe during the week long stay I am hosting at my family summer home in Maremma this September. Here are details on the culinary and cultural adventure and details on how to sign up.

In case you can't make join me on the perfect coasts of Maremma, below is the recipe for my mother's killer insalata di riso.


Insalata di riso al tonno

Cold rice salad with tuna

for 6 people

2 small red bell peppers

1.5 cups rice

1 yellow zucchini

1 green zucchini

1/2 pound string beans

1/4 cup capers

1/2 cup pitted black olives

1 handful basil

1 can tuna in olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

lemon juice

olive oil

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 hard boiled eggs

Place the peppers on a sheet pan and in a 350˚F oven until they start getting tender and are blistered all over.

In the meantime, bring 2 generous pots of salted water to a boil. Add the rice and boil gently until al dente (about 18 minutes).

While the peppers and rice are cooking, cut the zucchini in half lengthwise and slice them in thin half wheels.

Top and tail the green beans and snap each bean in thirds.

Run the capers under hot water to eliminate the excess salt, then soak in cold water while you are finishing the rest of the preparation steps.

Rinse the olives from the brine and soak them in cold water.

Stack the basil leaves and roll longitudinally. Slice in very thin ribbons.

Drain the tuna from the oil and smash it with a fork. Place it in abowl with the ribboned basil.

Drop the zucchini and beans in the other boiling water and blanch just until they start to yield.

Drain and run under cold water to stop from cooking further and keep a bright color. Pat dry and add to the bowl with the tuna and basil.

Test the rice to see if it is ready, if so drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking and eliminate the starch. Shake the colander to eliminate excess water and transfer the rice to the bowl.

Remove the peppers from the oven and place them in a paper bag. Seal and set aside.

Drain and squeeze the capers then add them to the bowl.

Open the bag, the skin should come off the peppers rather easily. Eliminate skin and seeds. Then cut the peppers in short strips and add to the bowl.

Toss the ingredients that are in the bowl and taste for salt, adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Sprinkle some lemon juice and toss again. Lastly dress generously with olive oil and toss.

Test and balance lemon, salt and pepper. Place in a serving bowl and create a mound that is higher in the center and slides down on the sides.

Cut the olives in half and each egg in eight wedges.

Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise over the salad mounds and arrange the olive halves and egg slices in decorative chain patterns.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

NOTES:

  • I use a risotto rice for this salad (Arborio or Vialone Nano or Carnaroli) but any white rice will do as long as you leave it al dente and stop the cooking with cold water
  • You can also customize the salad with other vegetables: I have made it with some carrots, halved cherry tomatoes, shelling peas and sugar snaps, or even with herbs: mint or basil work well with this
  • I list red peppers to balance color but you can use yellow as well

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 6 & 7: baccalà

Apologies for skipping yesterday, I'm hoping to be pardoned by offering 2 versions of the same delicious ingredient: baccalà.

Baccalà is codfish preserved in salt and a staple on the Italian tables on Christmas Eve. There are infinite ways of preparing baccalà, these 2, both from the Roman tradition that informed much of my adored mother's cooking, are the ones that speak to me of home the most.

The first is perfect to be eating while held in hand and sipping prosecco, maybe around the tree while watching the frenzy of children tearing packages open. The second is a dish that gets better with a little aging, generally with too unusual a taste to be appreciated by children, thus better savored while the children have collapsed exhausted from that gift ripping frenzy.


Filetti di baccalà

Battered and fried salt cod fillets

 

for 4 to 5 filetti

1 pound skinless and boneless salt cod fillets

1 teaspoon fresh OR a generous 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

2 tablespoons lukewarm milk (if using fresh yeast)

OR pinch sugar (if using dry yeast)

1/2 pound all purpose flour

salt

fizzy water

frying oil

Rinse off the excess salt from the cod and soak it in cold water for 3 days changing the water 4 times a day. Strain from the soaking water and dry well. Cut in fillets 1” wide and 4” long and dry them well.

If using fresh yeast, dilute it in the milk and mix into a paste. If using dry active yeast, place it in a small bowl with a tablespoon of room temperature water and a tiny pinch of sugar. It will grow into a bubbly blob. Stir the blob into a paste.

Season the flour with salt in a bowl and mix in the yeast. Whisk in the water in a steady stream until you reach a thickish and smooth consistency.

To test the batter, perform this test: lift the whisk, thread the batter over the bowl. The threads of batter should “write”: think of the batter in the bowl as a sheet and the whisk as a pen: the pen leaves a trace and the sheet stays flat, it does not part to swallow that trace, rather the trace just kind of disappears after a couple of seconds.

If no trace is left, the batter is too liquid and needs some flour. If the sheet parts to swallow the writing, the batter is too thick and can be fixed with a bit of water.

Once you are satisfied with the batter, cover it and set it aside to rest at room temperature to let the yeast can work its magic.

In a shallow, wide saucepan heat a generous amount of oil to approximately 330˚F. Dredge the cod pieces in the batter until they are completely coated.

Carefully drop in the heated oil to deep fry. Keep turning them over and sploshing oil over them. Watch the coating of batter puff and cook until it has no wet spots.

Turn up the heat to impart crunchiness and a lovely golden color to the fillets. Drain over paper towels and serve while still warm.

 


Baccalà alla romana in agrodolce

Sweet and sour Roman style salted codfish

for 6 people

1.5 pounds salted codfish

1 bunch Swiss chard

1 yellow onion

2 carrots

2 celery stalks

salt

1/4 cup currants or raisins

1/4 cup pitted prunes

1/2 cup olive oil

3 bay leaves

1 large can peeled tomatoes

pepper to taste

flour

frying oil

1/2 cup pine nuts

sugar and vinegar to taste

 

Soak the codfish in water for 2 days, occasionally changing the water.

Divide the chard stalks from the leaves. Finely chop the onion, carrots, celery and chard stalks. Stack the chard leaves, roll them and cut them in very thin ribbons.

Soak the currants and prunes in warm water.

In a shallow pot heat the olive and the onion, carrots, celery and Swiss chard stalks and bay leaves with a generous pinch of salt. Soften them completely until they start caramelizing, stirring often to prevent them from burning.

Add the peeled tomatoes and a can full of water. Smash the tomatoes while they are coming to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium low and season with salt and pepper.

Cook the sauce down to a rather thick consistency, for about an hour, adding a bit of water if necessary.

In the meantime, drain and dry the salted cod, eliminate bones and skin and cut in pieces of about 2” x 3”. Dredge each piece lightly through flour and shake to remove the excess flour and ensure even coating.

Bring a panful of frying oil to 320˚F and deep fry the pieces of cod until they appear golden and crispy. Fry in batches as not to overcrowd the pan and lower the oil temperature. Set aside on a paper towel to drain excess oil.

When the sauce is about 10 minutes from done, drain the prunes and raisins. Add them and the pine nuts to the sauce. Add a small amount of sugar and vinegar and keep adjusting the balance until you find it pleasant to your taste, then give the the sauce a final 10 to 15 minutes on the heat to bring all the flavors together.

Transfer the sauce to a baking dish and arrange the pieces of cod in it in a layer. When ready to serve, heat in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes.

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 3: puntarelle alla romana

My 2 favorite classes among the ones who live in my head and I yet to find the courage to teach are one on anchovies and one I like to call Bitter is Better, to highlight such flavors as broccoli and chicories. The salad I am featuring today marries those 2 dreams in what I view as a perfect apotheosis of Christmas cheer. Puntarelle are a fibrous and bitter winter chicory which always sat prominently on the table of my grandparents' Christmases in Rome.

A tip when selecting puntarelle-literally little tips, they should be short and stout, if they look long and lanky, they've grown past their prime.

 


Puntarelle alla romana

Puntarelle with anchovy and garlic dressing

 

for 6 people

2 to 3 heads puntarelle (depending on the size)

4 anchovies packed in salt (or a small tin of fillets in olive oil)

1 garlic clove

1 lemon

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Early in the morning or even the evening before, prepare the puntarelle. Divide the heads into stalks and run the tip of a sharp paring knife lengthwise along the leaves and the hard center, effectively shredding each stalk in several longish, thin slices.

This is a rather tedious task, and if you are lucky enough to spend Christmas in Rome, you will find the chicory already skilfully prepared for you for a premium as you can see from the picture.

Once all the puntarelle are cut, place them in the salad spinner, submerge in cold water, add several cubes of ice and let sit until they curl.

To prepare the dressing, rinse the salt off the anchovies under cold running water, separate each anchovy in half from the tail up and remove the spine. Smash and peel the garlic clove. Zest and juice the lemon.

Place the anchovies, garlic, zest and lemon juice in a food processor bowl. Start the motor and process while adding olive oil in a thin stream until you have a runny and shiny well balanced dressing. Adjust salt and pepper.

When ready to serve, drain the puntarelle and spin several times to eliminate as much water as possible.

Place in a serving bowl, pour the dressing on them and toss well to coat all the curls thoroughly.

My week in Italian politics

Foto ricevimento marino
Foto ricevimento marino

If you follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook (and if you don't, you should!), you know that last week our beloved consul general Mauro Battocchi picked me among the Bay Area's bevy of Italian kitchen talent to cook for Mayor Ignazio Marino of Rome.

Mayor Marino addressed an audience of 50 citizens of the world on the need to help preserve the archaeological architectural heritage of Rome as I wiled away in the kitchen, doing my best to show that anyone's commitment to the culture of Italy also means we will all eat much better.

My trend of recognition continued yesterday, when my close friend Valentina Imbeni, director of La Scuola Italian International School asked that I feed breakfast/mid-morning snacks to a roomful of 20-30 people gathering for a private meeting with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Brekafast Renzi
Brekafast Renzi

Mr. Renzi made his dedication of La Scuola's new Kindergarten through 8th grade campus his only official appearance in SF, a moving moment for a group of parents to which I belong who have fought long and hard to establish this amazing place. La Scuola started as an informal playgroup and is now on the way to become one of the best language immersion schools in the Bay Area.

The greatest pleasure of the morning was spending time with Agnese Renzi, a witty and beautiful woman, full of questions on the Scuola, the vital community it gathers and the lives of Italians in San Francisco. Most importantly, she and I were the only ones wearing ivory in a sea of black dresses and suits AND she loved my ricotta tart with figs and pears.

Prime Minister Renzi dedicating La Scuola
Prime Minister Renzi dedicating La Scuola

I leave you today with the two recipes that were most appreciated during the 2 events, an antipasto and a dessert.

Should you wish to eat just like an Italian politician, I will include many recipes from the 2 events in the context of my monthly cooking workshop at the Consulate, reprising next Wednesday. The classes are held the first Wednesday of each month and you can refer to my calendar for instructions on registering, there are some spots still open.

Acciuga fritta
Acciuga fritta

Acciughe croccanti del Sindaco

Mayoral crispy anchovies

for 8 to 10 people

1/2 pound fresh anchovies

2 eggs

bread crumbs

oil for deep frying

salt to taste

 

Rinse the anchovies and pat them dry.

Slit along the underbelly and lay flat. Carefully remove the spine and head leaving the tail attached.

Beat the eggs well and salt lightly.

Fill a frying pan with the oil about 3/4 up the sides. Heat the oil to 320˚F (use a candy thermometer to measure).

Grab and anchovy by its tail and dunk in the eggs, ensure it is all covered. Dredge it through the breadcrumbs to coat all over in a light layer. Repeat until all the fish are coated.

Fry in small batches to avoid overcrowding the pan and cooling the oil. The oil should bubble and hiss quickly around each anchovy as it goes into the oil. When the first side is golden-about 2 minutes- turn over with tongs to finish the other side.

Transfer to paper towels to let the oil drain drain.

Repeat until all the anchovies are fried and transfer them to a shallow bowl. Salt lightly and toss by shaking the bowl.

Serve immediately.

 


Crostata ministeriale di ricotta con fichi e pere

Ministerial ricotta, figs and pears tart

 

for a 9 to 10” tart pan:

Crust:

2 cups (270 grams) flour

½ cup (115 grams) sugar

½ cup (135 grams) butter

4 egg yolks

pinch of salt

grated zest of a lemon

Filling:

2/3 pound fresh ricotta

1/2 cup sugar

grated zest of 1 orange

2 eggs

1 tablespoon rum or brandy

4 slightly under ripe figs

2 small pears

 

Prepare the pasta frolla: place all ingredients in the mixer with a paddle attachment, work on medium to high speed until they start coming together.

Empty on top of a piece of plastic wrap and press together with the tip of your fingers, then form a flat round ball with the palm of your hands.

Wrap tightly with plastic and place in the refrigerator to rest for at least 30 minutes.

If using a food processor, pulse until the ingredients start coming together, and then proceed as above.

Push the ricotta through a sieve into a bowl and add the sugar and zest. Whisk together to dissolve the sugar and smooth.

Separate the eggs. Stir in the yolks and liquor into the ricotta mixture. Leave the whites at room temperature.

Roll the pasta frolla to about 1/4" and line the tart mold with it. Cut off excess crust and keep it to make cookies. Prick the bottom and return to the refrigerator.

Eliminate the stem from the figs with a pair of scissors, leaving the skin on. Cut in 8 sections.

Core and quarter the pears, cut each section into 4 slices. You will have an equal number of fig and pear slices.

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and gently fold into the ricotta then pour the mixture into the tart shell just above the half way point.

Make rows or concentric circles with the fruit slices, alternating them and gently laying them on the top, without pushing into the ricotta.

Bake at 350˚F for about 1 hour, keeping the mold closer to the bottom of the oven. The edges with be a dark blond. The fruit slices will look slight withered and will have partially drowned in the filling.

Let cool before serving.

Cooking in Italy: pane cunzatu

cooking in bikini:PanareaWhile in Panarea, pane cunzatu was one of the specialties most eateries advertised. This dressed bread is a cooked until hard crown of pane di semola-hard wheat bread, softened with the juice and flesh of little tomatoes and enlivened by capers, basil, oregano, olive oil...kind of a seminal food for one like me. I tried my hand at it. Two things were happiest about playing with pane cunzatu: cooking it in a bikini and watching the joy and taste with which the children ate it.

 

 

pane cunzatuPane cunzatu Dressed bread

1 pound cherry tomatoes salt to taste 1/3 cup capers packed in salt 1 handful fresh basil leaves 1/4 of a small red onion 2 to 3 teaspoons dried oregano pepper to taste 1 10-12" crown hard semolina bread (this is fairly common in Italian bakeries) olive oil to taste Quarter the cherry tomatoes and place them in a colander inside a bowl. Season them liberally with salt, toss them well and squeeze them gently to let the juices run. Set aside.

Rinse all the salt off the capers and soak them in warm water. Stack the basil leaves, roll them and slice them gently in very thin ribbons. Slice the onion very thinly. Drain and rinse the capers then squeeze off the excess water.

Add the oregano, basil, capers and onions to the tomatoes and toss well. Adjust salt and pepper.

Lift the colander, you should have plenty of tomato juice.

Lay the bread on a platter and crack it in chunks by hand. Sprinkle it lightly with salt then pour the tomato juice all over it. It should be nicely wet and soft, but not soaked to the point that excess water sweats out of it. If it needs it, just add a bit of still water to it.

Dress both the bread and the tomatoes generously with olive oil. Toss the tomatoes again and taste for flavor, adjust seasoning if it needs it. If there is more tomato juice, pour it on the bread.

Arrange the tomatoes all over the bread and garnish with a few basil tips and flowers . Bring to the table.

NOTES:

  • This dish can be enriched with many things to make it a more filling meal
  • I served sides of tuna packed in oil, soft boiled eggs, anchovies, olives, shaved aged ricotta that people could pick from
  • I am, of course and as always, partial to anchovies

The comfort of anchovies

Occasionally, I have a difficult day. No sizable reason, just a cluster of them large enough to carry an antsy undercurrent of unease. On days like this, I tend to remain hidden in bed through familiar morning rituals, rising only to thieve my computer unseen, so that I can find solace in mainstream entertainment. I opt to shut out the world and ignore responsibilities for a few hours and let the unease work its way out of me, a task better achieved with the aid of a comforting snack. A chocolate bar, cookies or a pint of gelato might seem like the obvious choice, except that comfort tastes savory to me. Savory, salty, silvery, briny and high in calcium at that.

Yes, you guessed it: anchovies are what pulls me out of a funk. In fact, when heaped on butter-slathered toasted bread they can dry my bitterest tears.

I hold little loyalty to any particular food. I favor eats because they suit an impermanent mood or they are of the season, because they assuage fear or they pique curiosity. But cornered on a desert island, a loaf of bread, a slab of butter and a jar of salt packed anchovies are what I would want with me. Well, that and my new iPhone 5S with a solar power charger.

And it's not just that anchovies are delicious as a stand-alone food, they are also a game-changing ingredient to deepen the flavor of any dish. I use them in pasta sauces and roasts, in fillings and  salad dressings. And have you ever eaten them fresh? They are perfect grilled or pan-fried, but their most sublime, crispiest death is met breaded and dropped in scalding hot oil.

From late spring into summer and at times into fall, they slither copiously in the waters of Monterey Bay and often make their way to fish counters around San Francisco.

My latest addiction are green olives stuffed with anchovies and capers by my friend Maria Luisa Manca, a native of Catania who lives in Morgan Hill. Last December, she offered them for sale at the annual Mercatino di Natale-a holiday market offering the crafts of Italian women in the Bay Area held at The Italian American Museum of San Francisco.

And one more thing...look at how good anchovies are for you!

These little pets put me in such a good mood. Here are a few ways I have enjoyed them over the past couple of weeks alone.

Before I leave you with some cooking ideas, please take the time to check my calendar for upcoming 2014 classes and events.

Pizzette di polenta bianca White polenta mini pizzas

I took white polenta leftover from my polenta class at 18 Reasons, shaped it into 6 disks about 3" in diameter and 1" in height, pan-fried them in a bit of olive oil, spread each with half a tablespoon of tomato paste, then laid a slice of fresh mozzarella and 2 olive oil packed anchovy fillets. Right before placing them in 325˚F oven for about 10 minutes I sprinkled my makeshift pizzette with dry Sicilian oregano. They and a salad made for a very happy lunch to which I invited 2 friends and a bottle of prosecco.

shapes and flavors of comfort

 

Pane burro e acciughe Bread, butter and anchovies

Here's the picture of what put me in a good mood. The anchovies I used are from Cetara, a small town on the Amalfi Coast. They came packed in salt. I washed, cleaned and re-packed them in extra virgin olive oil. The butter is Clover organic, unsalted of course. The bread is from a bag of six lovely par-baked ones I buy from Berkeley Bowl and pop in the oven when in need of crusty, steaming bread.

 

 

 

Orecchiette piccanSpigarielloti con spigariello, aglietto fresco e acciughe Spicy orecchiette with spigariello, green garlic and anchovies

Spigariello is a broccoli family curly little leafy green. The tender leaves grow around a small rapini like flower which will keep sprouting after it's cut. Its bitterness is more delicate and subtle than that of other brassicas and the leaves are tender enough to be a salad. If you do not find it, you can substitute it with rapini, broccoli rabe, romanesco, or even with good old broccoli, you will just need to cut them in small pieces and adjust the cooking time to make your green of choice quite tender.

 

 

 

 

for 6 people 3 stalks green garlic salt to taste 5 to 6 anchovy fillets in olive oil 1 pound spigariello 1 pound box orecchiette 1⁄4 cup olive oil 1 pinch red pepper flakes grated pecorino

Clean the green garlic as if they were scallions, by eliminating the root, removing 1 outer layer and eliminating the fibrous green part at the very top. Cut 2 of the garlic stalks  in chunks, add them to a large pot of salted boiling water and let cook for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, mince the remaining green garlic and the anchovies together.

Add the cleaned spigariello to the water and garlic and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

Using a strainer, fish the garlic and greens out of the water which will be reserved to cook the pasta.

Chop the greens and garlic quite finely and set them aside.

Bring the greens cooking water back to a boil and drop the orecchiette in it.

In the meantime, heat the minced garlic and red pepper flakes in the olive oil in saute pan over medium heat.

When the garlic is soft and translucent, add the chopped greens and saute for about 5 minutes.

When the orecchiette are still quite toothsome, transfer them to the pan using a strainer or a slotted spoon.

Gradually add small quantities of pasta cooking water, as much as it is necessary to bring to the desired tenderness. Finish with a splash of olive oil and serve immediately with the pecorino on the side.

 

Pecorino di fossa con olive paradisiache di Maria Luisa Cave aged pecorino with Maria Luisa's heavenly olivesPecorino di fossa e olive di Maria Luisa

For this heavenly snack, you will need me to cajole Maria Luisa into making her olives for you. Then I can try to track down another friend, Tiziana owner of Un Po' Pazzo Selections, who has been importing the sheep cheeses of La Parrina, an early adopter of organic and sustainable agriculture in the Maremma region, which happens a stone's throw away from where my family spends the summers about which I wrote back in July and August. Maybe I can convince Tiziana to sell some of this coveted, scarce cave aged sheep cheese. Lastly you will lounge on your couch, listening to your favorite music, nibbling on your pecorino and olive and meditating on how lucky you are to have Italian connections in the Bay Area.

Winter holidays fare: baby octopus and calamari salad

It's become tradition, every early December my friend Elisabetta Fagioli and I mark the advent of the Christmas season with a holiday food and wine pairing workshop at the Italian Cultural Institute in San Francisco. Elisabetta is a 3rd level sommelier specialized in Italian wines and for an hour or so she and I chat about the Italian holiday table and the whys and hows of dishes likely to be served during one or another of the many festivities this season brings.

For the eating and drinking part of the evening, we choose 3 different dishes from various regions, I prepare them and Elisabetta expertly picks wines most suited for the flavors. This year she focused on bubbly wines.

Such fun was had last Tuesday, on the very day when I woke up to find my voice almost completely erased by a sore throat. Since I could say very little, the food needed to speak for itself. Apparently it did, as several attendees have asked for recipes and information about my classes.

Here is how to make the starter, my take on an octopus salad that my Sicilian friend Maria Luisa Manca tells me is a staple on Christmas Eve in her region.

Insalata di polipetti e calamari Baby octopus and calamari salad

for 6 people

the dish with the sprkling wine Elisabetta recommends

1.5 pounds baby octopus (or an adult octopus will also work) 1.5 pounds calamari 1/2 yellow onion 1 celery stalk 2 to 3 sprigs parsley 1 Meyer lemon splash dry white wine 2 tablespoon salt 1 handful parsley leaves olive oil salt and pepper to taste 1 garlic clove

Before we delve into the procedure, let's chat about what to do when you first bring tentacled creatures to your kitchen.

One can generally find them clean. I prefer performing the task myself, because if they are whole they are less likely to have been previously frozen, but I also find the job deliciously relaxing, my brain wonders off into a cottony, fishy cloud of which I enjoy the sensorial aspect and the sense of accomplishment which comes with completing the work.

Should you decide that you are going to clean them yourself, here's how you do it.

Octopus (baby or adult): turn over the tentacles and squeeze out the beak that is hiding underneath in the center hole. Turn back over, snip the eyes with scissors and squeeze them out. Now cut a little slit around the head, enough to be able to turn it inside out, and strip away the guts, brains and ink sac (you can keep that for other cooking if you'd like). Rinse and you're done.

Calamari: turn over the tentacles and squeeze out the beak that is hiding underneath in the center hole. Turn back over, snip the eyes with scissors and squeeze them out. Sneak your finger into the body to pull out the bone (you will feel it, it rests on the side where the little flaps are, it is hard and feels a little like a feather in the center). Grasp the body at the tip and squeeze your way down to eliminate the guts and brain. Rinse and you're done.

A few more tips: I like to leave the skins on, as in my opinion it makes it that much tastier. If you'd rather doff the skin, it is much easier to do so once the critters are cooked, though you can also patiently do it while cleaning.

My zia Milla, one of the best cooks with whom I grew up summers in Italy, is of the school of thought that you only remove the beak and bone, but leave in the guts and brains. My mother used to remember my 5 year old self in awe of the gustatory experience that was zia Milla's stewed octopus. Apparently I said "And she leaves the brain in!".  The dish since became polpi col cervello (octopus with brain) and to this day, it is one of my favorite dish of octopus, in itself one of my top 10 foods.

Back to the recipe now...

Once the seafood is clean, fill a pot with water and add the parsley sprigs, onion, celery stalk, 2 slices of lemon, the white wine and tablespoons of salt. Bring to a boil.

Drop the calamari in the water, cover with the lid and turn off the heat. Let sit for about 20 minutes. Strain out of the water with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool.

Bring the water back to the boil and drop in the baby octopus. When the water starts boiling again, turn the heat down and simmer until the octopuses are tender and easily chewable. (It will take about 20 minutes for the baby ones and longer for large ones, with timing depending on the size). Drain and set aside to cool.

While the seafood is cooking, grate the zest and squeeze the juice of the Meyer lemon, pick and clean the parsley leaves and smash the garlic clove.

Place the juice, zest and parsley in a small food processor with salt and pepper to taste. Stir the blade while gradually adding olive oil in a stream (this can also be done with a handheld immersion blender). Continue until you reach a balance of fat and acid your palate finds satisfying. Adjust salt and pepper if necessary. Transfer to a jar and drop in the garlic clove.

Divide the bodies from the tentacles of the calamari and baby octopus. Cut the calamari bodies in thick rings. (If using large octopus, cut in pieces suitable for a salad).

Combine the seafood in a bowl and season generously with the dressing from which you will have removed the garlic clove.

NOTES:

  • When buying large octopus, choose those with 2 rows of suction cups, they are the ones that live in the rocks and are tastier and more delicate than their sand dwelling brothers.

 

Dinner tonight: potato and calamari salad

Last month, when asked by one of my cousins if he liked my cooking, my child answered he loves going to my classes because I reserve all my best recipes for those. "I am so tired of getting the same food all the time at home" he said. He might be exaggerating a bit, but since I intend to maintain the monopoly to his heart as long as possible, I have been hard at work devising varied dishes that can be made in the 30 to 40 minutes I typically set aside for cooking dinner on weeknights.

This is what happened tonight.

Insalata di calamari e patateCalamari e patate Calamari and potato salad

for 6 people 1.5 pounds whole calamari splash dry white wine 3 to 4 whole peppercorns 1 lemon 1 generous handful parsley and or basil (or a mix of the 2) salt to taste 12 new yellow potatoes olive oil pepper to taste 1 clove garlic (optional)

 

Clean the calamari as follows: divide the bodies from the tentacles. Clean the body by squeezing out the guts and carefully pulling out the bone. Turn the tentacles over and squeeze out the beak at the center, turn back over, poke the eyes and squeeze out the eyeballs. Rinse the cleaned squid. In my opinion there is absolutely no need to remove the skin.

To a pot of water, add the white wine, peppercorns, 1 slice of the lemon, a few leaves of the herb you are using and a very generous pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil, add the calamari, cover and turn off the heat. Let sit while preparing the rest of the dish.

Cut the potatoes in slices about 1/4" thick and steam them until they can be easily pierced with a knife. In the meantime, prepare the dressing.

Pick the leaves off the herb and mince them finely. Squeeze the lemon juice. Smash and peel the garlic clove. Stir some salt into the lemon juice and whisk in some olive oil in a stream in a proportion of 3 to 1 fat to acid. Add the minced herbs, pepper to taste and whole garlic clove. Keep in mind that this can all be done in a food processor.

Transfer the potatoes to a bowl. Drain the calamari and discard the flavorings in the water. Leave the tentacles whole and slice the bodies in slanted rings of about 1". Add them to the bowl.

Remove the garlic from the dressing and discard. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and calamari and mix well. Adjust salt, pepper and lemon and serve.

Please note that while this is a dish in which I prefer no more than the fragrance of garlic as not to overpower it, one should feel free to mince it into the dressing.

Also, I used new potatoes with very thin and soft skin, so I left it on. They can be substituted with larger potatoes, which will need to be peeled.