Salads

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 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.

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

Mamma in my kitchen

She loved us, my four siblings and me, fiercely and unwaveringly as her life slid along peaks and valleys. At times she kept us and at times we became her keepers. She left us too early. It's been almost six years and not a day I fail to mourn the loss of all she still had to say and to rejoice in the blind and extraordinary luck of having been born her daughter. Gardenias were her favorMamma croppedite flowers. She laughed hard and she cried hard. She loved intensely and was loved back. She had unique aesthetics and style. She was ahead of her time and steeped into it. She respected the sacred and enjoyed the profane. She made mistakes and taught invaluable lessons. Her spirit was full of contradiction and her heart was steady.

Her hand in the kitchen was unpredictable and always right. She rarely bowed to the constraints of a recipe. Around a square country table, by a fire place and a window upholstered by ivy, she gifted us some of her best, lovingly attempting at our girths.

Magic was always boiling in a pot, drying on a rack, baking in the oven, resting in the refrigerator. Visions of her hands harvesting, frying, braising, gathering, preserving marked the seasons of childhood.

When I watch my own hands at work, I like to think that some of my mother's gifts are still here, in my very own kitchen, for my very own child.

Grazie mamma.

La panzanella più buona del mondo~The world's best summer bread salad (recipe adapted for my California kitchen from the memories of my mom's legendary panzanella)

1/2 loaf stale crusty country breadPanzanella  cropped salt and pepper to taste 3 ripe tomatoes 1/2 red onion 1 cup large basil leaves 1 small cucumber (optional) 2 handfuls arugula or other wild salad red wine vinegar olive oil

Cut the bread in chunks and wet them with cold water. Mom always said the trick to a good panzanella is how one treats the bread. Do not completely soak, rather wet gently, in a small quantity of water coming not more that half way up the sides of your bread chunks.

Also, the older the bread, the longer water will take to moisten all the way to the center. So while a a very stale loaf might sit in water for a bit, a fresher one might only need a quick rinse under a running faucet and no soaking at all.

Whatever the case, be sure that, once well moistened, your bread of choice is squeezed until no more water drips out of it no matter how hard you wring. Place in a bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste, drizzle with some vinegar to where it suits your buds and set aside.

Cut the tomatoes in fairly skinny wedges. Slice the onion in paper thin half moons. Tear the basil leaves with your hands. Slice the cucumber quite thinly (I much prefer cucumber in the dish, though sometimes my mother used red bell pepper instead. You can also entirely omit one or the other).

Add the tomatoes, onions, basil, cucumber and arugula to the bread chunks. Toss all the ingredients well and dress with a generous amount of olive oil. Toss some more and taste to ensure the balance of salt, vinegar and oil is to your liking. Adjust as needed.

NOTES:

  • Panzanella is even more delicious the day after, just spruce up with some fresh greens and refresh with a drizzle of olive oil
  • For slicing the onion and cucumber, the ideal tool is a mandolin