Fish

Cooking in Italy: pasta for a jet lagged crowd

Pasta al tonno e pistacchi fredda

Pasta al tonno e pistacchi fredda

In the enchanting Panarea until the end of the month, and whenever I am in this part of the world, certain flavors inevitably beckon and inspire. This one of those pastas about which I so love to teach, the kind in a sauce that will be ready in the time it takes the water to boil and the pasta to cook, in other words, a perfect still-jet-lagged-but-starving solution.

And because you don't have to eat it scalding hot and it doesn't suffer from waiting a bit, it is wonderfully suited for the comings and goings of the varying circadian rhythms of a large group of people.

Lastly, should you jonesey for it in the winter, you can still make it with a few good canned Sanmarzano tomatoes.

Enjoy.

Definitely a room with a view

Definitely a room with a view


Pasta con pomodorini, tonno e pistacchi

Pasta with cherry tomatoes, tuna and pistachios

 

for 6 people

1/4 cup capers packed in salt

1/4 cup green Sicilian olives

1/4 cup pistachios

1/4 cup fresh mint to taste

2 garlic cloves

24 ripe and sweet cherry tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 can tuna in olive oil pepper to taste

salt to taste

1 box short pasta of your choice (calamarata is in the photo)

 

Put a pot of water to boil. The pot should easily contain all the pasta and leave space for it to grow in size as it is cooking. The water should be salted enough to remind you of sea water.

Rinse the salt off the capers and soak them in warm water to finish expunging the salt.

Rinse the olives, crack them to eliminate the stone and chop them roughly.

Chop the pistachios.

Reserve 3 or 4 of the prettiest mint leaves for garnishing. Stack the rest, roll them and slice them in very thin ribbons.

Smash and peel the garlic.

Cut the tomatoes in quarters.

Pour the pasta in the boiling water and give it a stir.

In a 12" sauté pan gently heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the garlic clove, half the mint and the oregano.

Drain the tuna off its packing oil and crumble it with a fork.

When the olive oil runs quickly and shimmers and you can smell the garlic fragrance, remove and discard the clove.

Raise the heat to medium high and add the tuna. Sauté for about 2 minutes.

Drain the capers.

Add the tomatoes, capers and olives to the tuna and keep sautéing over a lively flame until the tomatoes are wrinkly and tender and there is a bit of a sauce in the bottom of the pan, it should take 5 to 6 minutes.

Using a handheld strainer, fish the pasta out of the water and transfer it to sauté pan. Add about half a cup of pasta cooking water and continue cooking the pasta, until it has reached your desired doneness-this might require the addition of a bit more pasta water.

Finish with olive oil and adjust salt and pepper. Toss in the pistachios and the leftover sliced.

Garnish with the mint leaves and bring to the table.

NOTE:

This sauce has some rather flavorful ingredients so I suggest adjusting salt and pepper at the very end, when it is all done. If you want a little kick, you can swap black pepper for red. Lastly, keep in mind that the timing of this is calibrated on a pasta that takes 10 to 12 minutes to cook, you will need to adjust the timing to the type of pasta you choose.

Happy Holiday Table!

Spaghetti alla pescatrice e finocchio

Spaghetti alla pescatrice e finocchio

Yes I am still around, just had a busy few months and writing took a backseat. If you're interested in finding out what kept me so busy, I just finished writing and end-of -year-recap newsletter which you will receive soon. This year, I had to pare down from last December's 12 Days of Christmas recipes extravaganza. For the 2015 Holiday table I am sharing 2 recipes, a pasta with monkfish for Christmas Eve and a rabbit with olives which can make a lovely dish anytime throughout the season.

I developed and taught both these dishes while leading my food tour of Maremma last September. More details on it and on upcoming tours for 2016 will be in my newsletter, or you can email viola@violabuitoni.com for details.

Just one more reminder: cooking classes make great holiday gifts, check my newsletter for details on where I will be teaching in 2016.

Please enjoy the merriest of holidays!

 


Spaghetti con pescatrice, finocchio e pinoli tostati al profumo d’arancio

Spaghetti with orange scented monkfish, wild fennel and pine nuts sauce

 

for 6 to 8 people

3 sweet yellow onions

2 cups wild fennel

1 whole monkfish of about 3 pounds, skin off

(or fillets will do in a pinch and skate or a small bass can sub for the monkfish)

salt and pepper to taste

grated zest of one orange

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup pine nuts

1 pound box spaghetti

 

Slice the onions in very thin half moons.

Clean and wash the fennel very well. Dry it and chop it quite finely.

Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper.

Reserve 1 tablespoon of chopped fennel and one pinch of grated zest.

Heat the olive oil in a shallow, wide mouth sauce pot add the onions, all but the reserved fennel and zest and a generous pinch of salt.

Slowly soften everything over gentle heat for about 20 minutes, until the onions appear translucent and quite soft.

Raise the heat and add the monkfish. As soon as the color of the fish changes to whitish, deglaze it with the white wine.

When you no longer smell the acidity of the wine, add 1 cup of water, turn the heat down and cover the fish.

Braise it slowly until the eyes are sunken in the orbits and the flesh is falling off the skeleton, it should take about 30 minutes.

Check it often and add a little bit of water to the bottom of the pot if it looks like it’s sticking or too dry.

In the meantime, toast the pine nuts on low heat until they are gold, appear oily and you can effortlessly smell their distinctive flavor.

Remove the fish from the pot being mindful to let all the liquid, onions and fennel fall back into the sauce.

Pick the flesh off the bones and spine. There will be some gelatinous parts that come from the spine and fins, keep them as they will make for just the right sauce texture.

Also, do not forget to pick the cheeks and all the tasty little bits off the head.

Return the bits of fish to the pot and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, just so that all the ingredients come together well.

Adjust salt and pepper.

Drop the spaghetti in salted boiling water and cook quite al dente, about 4 minutes less than the recommended time.

Strain the pasta from the water using tongs or a handheld strainer and add them to the pot with the sauce in it.

Add a bit of the pasta cooking water and finish cooking the pasta with the sauce, tossing and turning all the while.

You might need to add a little more pasta water, but do so gradually as to not overcook the pasta.

When the spaghetti reaches your preferred toothsomeness, sprinkle with olive oil, turn off the heat and toss with energy.

The oil and starch in the cooking water will bind, giving the dish just the right creaminess and moisture.

Scatter the toasted nuts on the pasta, toss and transfer to a warm platter.

Dust with the reserved fennel and zest and serve right away.

 


Very tasty rabbit

Very tasty rabbit

Coniglio alle olive in teglia

Stove top rabbit with olives

for 4 people

1 rabbit

salt to taste

1 cup black olives with pits

2 sage sprigs

2 wide strips orange peel

2 garlic clove

olive oil

1/2 tablespoon grated orange zest

1/2 cup red wine

1 cups hot chicken stock

pepper to taste

 

The day before making the dish, have the butcher cut your rabbit in 8 to 10 pieces.

Salt the pieces generously, cover and refrigerate.

When ready to start cooking, remove the from the refrigerator and place on the counter to come to room temperature.

In the meantime, rinse the olives well and place them in a small bowl. Squeeze them lightly with your fingers to loosen the flesh.

Pick the leaves off 1 sage sprig and rub them and the orange peel strips between your palms to release their essence. Smash the garlic clove without peeling.

Add the rubbed sage and orange and the smashed garlic clove to the olives then cover everything in olive oil. Leave to marinate while you get the rabbit started.

Mince the garlic to a paste with a generous pinch of salt and mix with the grated zest.

Pick the leaves off the remaining sage sprigs and rub them between your palms to release their essence.

Select a sauté pan wide enough to accommodate the rabbit pieces in one comfortable layer. Pour 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil in it and add the zest and garlic mince.

Set on gentle heat and add the sage leaves. Soften very gently for 2 to 3 minutes stirring often to prevent burning and sticking.

Add the rabbit and bring the fire to medium to brown lightly on both sides, still stirring to ensure the garlic doesn't burn.

Raise the heat to high and deglaze with the wine. When you no longer smell the acidity, but just the sugar, pour the stock all over the meat.

When the stock start boiling, lower the heat to medium low and cover the pan.

The rabbit will need to cook for about 20 minutes at a lively simmer. It will get quite tender. You will have to return to it often to ensure it is not burning nor sticking and has a bit of liquid on the bottom.

In the meantime, remove and discard the garlic clove from the olives and pour out some of the excess oil. Stir them into the rabbit.

Braise for another 10 to 15 minutes, adjust salt and pepper. Transfer the rabbit pieces to a warm platter and pour the cooking liquid over them. Serve warm to hot.

Note that there should be a good amount of slightly dense sauce. If it seems too liquid, remove the rabbit and keep it warm by covering the warm platter in aluminum, let the sauce boil a little longer to thicken slightly before pouring it on.

Waste not want not, leftovers from an Italian Christmas

Though the quickly ending year is leaving quite a bit to be desired behind, all in all I can say that there were nothing but upsides this past December 25th. They are:

Christmas morning
Christmas morning
  • Spending Christmas morning in bed with the amore piccolo and the amore grande watching "The Interview"
  • Finding Christmas joy in cooking and hosting a meal for 30, and managing to sit them all
  • Knowing at least 30 people who understand that the first item on this list completely justifies delaying festivities by 3 hours
  • Discovering that the 12 days of Christmas START rather than end on Christmas Day (did everyone know that? If so, shouldn't someone have told me on by Day 2 or 3 of my Italian holiday table series??)
  • Having enough leftovers to continue the series for several days
Christmas dinner 2014
Christmas dinner 2014

First up: repurposing that lone octopus tentacle swimming in its own perfect broth. This one accounted for 2 meals, one of spaghetti-below and one of risotto-coming soon...


Spaghetti al sugo di polpo piccante

Spaghetti with spicy octopus sauce

 

for 6 people

lone octopus tentacle from recipe described here

1 garlic clove

1 handful basil leaves

2 tablespoon tomato concentrate

1 cup octopus stock olive oil

red pepper flakes to taste

splash dry white wine

salt to taste

 

Cut the octopus tentacles in very small morsels. Smash and peel the garlic clove.

Stack the basil leaves, roll them longitudinally and slice them in very thin ribbons.

Heat the octopus stock and dilute the tomato concentrate in it.

Pour 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil, the garlic clove and half the basil in a sautè pan. Gently heat everything until the fragrance of the garlic wafts to your nostrils.

Discard the garlic clove and add the cut octopus. Warm for a couple of minutes and deglaze with the wine.

Wait until the wine smells caressing rather than acrid then add the octopus stock with the tomato concentrate.

While it is gently simmering to slightly reduce, cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water.

Using a handheld strainer transfer the spaghetti into the sautè pan about 4 minutes before the suggested cooking time printed on the package.

Finish cooking by gradually adding small amounts of the water in which the spaghetti cooked. Be mindful to add the liquid in small amounts so that the pasta has a chance to absorb it. If too much liquid is added, one is bound to end with with either overcooked or soupy pasta.

When the spaghetti have reached the consistency most palatable to you, finish with a short stream of olive oil and serve immediately in a warm platter after garnishing with the remainder of the basil.

NOTES

  • You might have noticed that I omit the salt from this recipe except for what goes in the water for the pasta. That is by design in that the octopus stock is more often than not salty enough to carry it on to the rest of the dish, however, I do suggest that you try the sauce to make sure it is agreeable to your preferred level of saltiness

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 9: polpo

Today is fish day. No it will not be 7 fishes, rather just one veeeery long cooking octopus. Below are pictures of what is happening in my kitchen as I write.

Merry Christmas!

 


Polpo alla Luciana

Braised octopus

 

for 6 to 8 people

3 to 4 pounds octopus

salt to taste

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 handful parsley

1 ripe large tomato-if in season

OR 2 or 3 canned tomatoes

OR 2 tablespoon tomato concentrate

2 garlic cloves

pepper to taste

 

Lightly sprinkle salt on the octopus and place it in a Dutch oven. Add the olive oil and wine.

Rinse and add the parsley, stems off.

Chunk the fresh tomato or smash the canned one with your hands. Smash and peel the garlic. Add them to the rest of the ingredients-or add the tomato concentrate.

Season with pepper-or red pepper flakes if you want to give it a kick.

Seal the pot with a layer of parchment paper and tie it around its circumference with kitchen twine. Cover tightly with the lid and place over the lowest heat your stovetop can dispense.

Cook slowly and lovingly for 3 to 4 hours, or more if you have a big octopus, without ever opening and unsealing the pot.

Bask in the fragrance until you deem it ready.

Open and drain the octopus from its water. You can serve it as is, cool it and make a salad with it, mince it for a pasta sauce.

Whatever you do, keep the stock it has produced so we can use it for our days of leftover fun.

NOTES

  • This is an old Italian classic, there are versions that use onion and/or celery for a richer stock
  • I have made this also without wine, or using basil in the summer
  • A pinch of oregano adds a delightful dimension
  • The stock will be rather intense so do not add salt or reduce, otherwise you will not be able to use it
  • Lastly: a picture of my child and some of his cousins after having eaten spaghetti with a sauce from the recipe above last summer in Tuscany
Topini che mangiano il polpo della zia Viola
Topini che mangiano il polpo della zia Viola

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 2: Tortelli di Silvia al baccalà e ceci

When it comes to showing holiday spirit, the table is the altar at which my family has always prayed. Food and the cooking of it have always been somewhat of an obsession for us, and no time of the year is marked by planning, discussing, concocting, experimenting as much as this. In this vein, my sister Silvia, who has already started making the cappelletti for which she's famous and sells throughout the month of December, found the inspiration in a central Italian specialty-baccalà e ceci-for a pasta dish to satisfy the requirement of a meatless Christmas Eve.

These tortelli are simply amazing. Grazie Silvia!

The pictures, by the way, are courtesy of my wonderful students.


Tortelli di Silvia al baccalà e ceci

Silvia’s codfish and chickpeas tortelli

 

for the filling and sauce

1/2 pound salted codfish (or fresh true cod)

2 cups chickpeas

1 small onion

1 carrot

1 celery stalk

1 bay leaf

3 black peppercorns

1/2 bunch parsley

1 lemon

2 eggs

1 garlic clove

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

 

for the pasta dough

5 large eggs (or 3 to 4 duck eggs)

500 grams flour (1 pound + 1.5 ounces)

salt

This recipe needs some advance planning. Three days before you plan to make it, wash the codfish to remove the surface salt and soak it in cold water.

The water on the codfish will need to be changed 3 to 4 times a day over the course of 3 days. Note that you can use fresh codin a pinch.

Place the chickpeas in cold water to soak for 24 hours.

After the chickpeas soaking period, clean and chunk the onion, carrot and celery and place them in a pot of water with the bay leaf, 2 to 3 parsley sprigs, the peppercorns and 2 tablespoons of salt.

Bring the water to a boil and add the drained chickpeas. Lower the heat to medium and cook the chickpeas until they are soft enough to be easily smashed with a fork. It will take about an hour.

To make the dough, salt the flour and mound it in a well on a wooden board. make a well in the center and add the eggs and a pinch of salt. Using a fork, start working the eggs gradually incorporating the flour while keeping the well from falling and the eggs from running.

When the dough and flour become too dense to work with a fork, bring the dough together by pressing it with your hands or working it with 2 bench scrapers in samurai like motions.

When you have a somewhat shaggy ball of dough, start kneading by stretching the top third of the dough with your fingers up and away from you, folding and pressing it into the middle third with the heel of your hand and finally bringing everything into the bottom third. Turn the dough 90˚ or 1/4 hour and repeat the motions described above.

The folding and pressing motion will slowly turn the dough inside out and outward in, ensuring that all of it is kneaded. Continue kneading until the dough is somewhat smooth and elastic and quickly snaps back into place when pulled. It will take about 15 minutes.

You can also use a mixer with a hook attachment, just place the ingredients and mix on medium until everything comes together nicely and the dough looks homogeneous and elastic. Wrap tightly and let relax for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

In the meantime, prepare the filling.

Bring the water to a boil and put in the codfish. Lower the temperature to a simmer and poach the fish for about 20 minutes.

While the fish is cooking, mince the parsley and grate the zest off the lemon.

Smash the fish and half the chickpeas with a fork and mix well with the half the parsley, the zest, 1 egg and 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

In a small bowl, whisk an egg with 3 tablespoons of water.

Using a pasta machine or the KitchenAid pasta attachments, roll the pasta into strips thin enough for you to be able to see the outline of your hand through them.

Lay the strips of pasta on a lightly floured surface and using a pastry wheel cut them into squares about 2x2". Spoon a small mound of filling in the center of each square.

Dip a small pastry brush in the egg wash and wipe off excess liquid. Very lightly brush the top and left sides of each square.

Fold one square into a triangle and seal it by matching the bottom right corner onto the top left one and lightly pressing along the 2 longer sides, paying mind to pushing out excess air.

Grab the 2 smaller corners of the triangles in between your thumbs and index fingers and lift it off the table-the 90˚ angle should be pointing down

Bring the 2 tips towards each other until they kiss. Slightly overlap them and press them together.

Repeat the process starting from the rolling of the pasta strips until you have finished the filling and/or the dough.

Line a baking pan with parchment paper and dust it with flour. Arrange the ravioli on it so that they do not overlap. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

Drop the tortelli in salted boiling water and cook for 2 to 3 minutes after they float to the surface.

In the meantime, process the remaining chick peas and the garlic clove with a few spoonfuls of the tortelli cooking water and enough olive oil to yield a rather runny, shiny purée. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Douse the bottom of a warm serving platter with 1/3 of the chickpeas purèe.

Drain the tortelli with a slotted spoon and arrange them on the platter. Douse with the sauce, dust with the remaining parsley and sprinkle a few drops of lemon juice. Serve immediately.

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: linguine with limpets

Panarea viewThis is what I have been waking up to in the last 4 days. Ernesto and I are staying with friends on the splendidly choreographed island of Panarea, part of a volcanic archipelago called Eolie off the northwest coast of Sicily. The inches where water and stone meet all around the island's coastline are dotted with limpets-patelle in italian-prehistorical looking, ridged, cone shaped shells that stick to the rocks hiding an oval of flavor and texture equal to only its own. I have never seen limpets in a fish market, but in times much past, my mother taught me to forage them.

Screen Shot 2014-07-27 at 9.02.52 AM

 

 

 

 

 

 

She showed me that by wedging the tip of a small knife under the shell then slowly wiggling it, one can kindly break the kiss between rock and limpet, then catch the valve as it falls, and-she told me-the patience required by the task would be well worth it in taste. As it happened, I got lost in how "far patelle"-gathering limpets ate my summer afternoons in the sweetest of way, motions and sounds of ebb and flow could hold my focus for hours.

The reward for my efforts lay in watching my mother dose her kitchen skills to shape the bittersweet springiness of patelle into one more brick for the house of my memories.

Yesterday afternoon I found out that patelle magic still holds, when I passed the secret on to my child and his friends, with the same motherly promise that their harvest would find new purpose through pots and pans. The children harvested until 7pm, at 8:30, I kept my promise.

 

Linguine alle patelle Linguine with limpets

for 6 people 2 pounds freshly harvested limpets salt to taste 1 pound linguine 1/2 handful basil leaves 1 to 2 garlic cloves 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil pepper to taste

Rinse the limpets several times under running water. Limpets live on rocks, so usually a few vigorous rinses are plenty to scant any grit they might contain.

patelle in cucinaPlace a colander in a bowl filled with salted cold water-sea water is ideal if you have easy access to it. Pour the limpets in until you are ready to use them.

Mince the garlic into a paste using a generous pinch of salt. Stack the basil leaves and roll them lengthwise. Slice them into very thin ribbons.

Place the olive oil into a saute pan with the garlic and basil mince. Heat gently until the minced fragrances are kind of melting. In the meantime, drain the limpets.

Place the linguine into a pot of salted boiling water.

Throw the limpets into the pan and saute over lively heat no more than 4 to 5 minutes. You will see the limpets becoming slightly smaller and some of them detaching from their shells.

 

Taste the linguine, they should be about half way through cooking, meaning they will fold without stiffness but will still have quite the uncooked soul inside. Remove the pasta from the water using a set of tongs and add it to the limpets.

Turn the heat back on and finish cooking the pasta by adding small amounts of cooking water to it and letting it absorb before adding more while moving the pan around almost constantly to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom.

Linguine alle patelleWhen the preferred doneness is reached, add a last splash of cooking water and the remaining olive oil, turn off the heat, toss well to give a creamy mouth feel and serve immediately.

The children will gobble them up, I promise.

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.