Spring

Greens of spring: scafata or vignarola?

Not so long ago, I posted a picture on my FB page of a springy vegetable stew , one that my mother used to make with the pickings of our vegetable garden every Easter. It showcases fava beans, artichokes, shelling peas, spring onions and baby chards or baby romaine lettuce at their peak. The choice between a) chards or b) romaines depends on your heart being rooted in Umbria or Tuscany-in which case you'd select option aand call it scafata, or your devotion to Rome steering you to option b-which would make the stew a vignarola.

I don't prefer one or the other version, as mom would make it according to market availability and whim, but I did have several requests for the recipe in the picture, so here it is.

Enjoy.


Scafata or Vignarola

Artichoke and spring greens stew

for 4 people:

1 lemon

4 medium sized artichokes

1 pound unshelled fava beans

1 pound shelling peas

2 spring onions

1 bunch of baby chards or 2 heads of baby romaine lettuce

1 sprig marjoram

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

 

Cut the lemon in half and squeeze its juice into a bowl of cold water. Drop the squeezed half lemons in the bowl.

Clean the artichokes. Remove the outer tough bitter leaves until about 2/3 of the outer circle of leaves are a lighter, somewhat yellowish green.

Slice off the darker top tip of the leaves. Pare the outer part of the bottom and peel the stems. Finally, slice off a very thin layer from the bottom of the stem.

This procedure is called turning, as for each phase of it, your knife will circle around the artichoke.

Halve each turned artichoke and remove the hairy choke if necessary. Cut each half in half again.

As they are ready, drop the artichoke quarters in the lemon water to prevent them from browning.

Shell the fava beans and the peas.

Cut offthe green top of the onions then cut in 8 wedges if they have a roundish bulb or just slice lengthwise if they are the narrower kind.

Carefully rinse the chards to eliminate any grit or, if using baby romaines, cut in quarters and rinse well.

In a shallow sauce pot pour the oil, than arrange all the vegetable snugly. Season liberally with salt and pepper and top with the marjoram.

Cover the pot and place it on low heat. The vegetables will release much moisture in which the vegetables will gently braise.

Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until everything is soft and well balanced. Adjust salt and pepper and enjoy at any temperature.

NOTES

  • Depending on the size of your artichokes you might have to cut them in 6 or 8 wedges or maybe just in half if smaller. If using baby artichokes you can leave them whole
  • The fava beans only need to come out of the pod, you do not have to peel every single bean
  • Spring onions are not to be confused with scallions, which are the very thin, available-year-round green onions. Spring onions are the young, firm fleshed, uncured, sweet tasting onions that are available in the very late winter and spring
  • To make this dish more substantial, you can render some cubed pancetta in the oil before adding the vegetables and serve the stew on thick slices of toasted country bread
  • The flavors in this dish make it a perfect complement to roasted lamb

Truffles and chocolates

When I asked Ernesto what would he wanted for breakfast Saturday of last week, he answered: "Spaghetti al tartufo, mamma-Spaghetti with truffle, mommie". And yes, he was serious. Tartufi marzolini

The first week in March, both Ernesto's current school, Miraloma Elementary, and his former pre-school, La Scuola Internazionale di San Francisco, hold their yearly auctions and every year, my truffle guy ships a generous in-kind donation straight from Italy to contribute to the success of the events.

As he's a stickler for quality, Piero Cipriani always puts in a sample for Ernesto and me to test. This year, we were blessed with 300 grams of bianchetti or marzolini, white spring truffles bursting with uncomplicated earthy flavors that I find best brought out by the subtle addition of anchovies.

By the way, Piero will ship directly from Italy truffles that are dug by cousins of his. Should you be interested, I would be happy to put you in touch with him.

 

On the chocolate front, I have been putting my training at Perugina's Scuola del Cioccolato to good use...

Baci e Cioccolato 1On Valentine's Day, 50 people at San Francisco's Italian Cultural Institute learned how to say "I love you" the Italian way by making and eating Baci Perugina. We all had a blast and went home happily covered in chocolate.

Over the next 2 month, at La Scuola di Eataly in Chicago on Saturday 4/5 and in New York, on Saturday 4/12 and 5/10, during 3 classes on Baci, I will make them, chat about their history, use them as ingredients in two of my original creations, chat about how my family shaped Perugina from a high end confectionery shop in the heart of my hometown into the world wide brand it is today, and share memories of growing up under this delectable legacy.

I have worshiped at the altar of anything associated with Lidia Bastianich since my first risotto at her NYC's legendary Felidia Ristorante in the mid 80's, so I am thrilled beyond what words can express at the thought of teaching at Eataly, a place I consider the ode to all I hold sacred in my chosen field.

Click on my event calendar for details on registering for the Perugina chocolate workshops. I hope to see some of you there and, if you are reading from Chicago or New York, spread the word.

Spaghetti con salsa di tartufi bianchetti Spaghetti with March white truffles (aka: Ernesto's favorite breakfast)Spaghetti ai marzolini

for 6 people: 100 grams March white truffles 5 olive oil packed anchovies fillets 1 to 2 teaspoons green garlic (or 1/2 clove regular garlic) olive oil salt to taste black pepper to taste 1 pound bag of spaghetti 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (optional)

Clean the truffles as follows: loosen the dirt with a new nail brush. Finish removing the dirt under running water while scrubbing each truffle with the brush. Dry well with a paper towel. Note that this needs to be a very quick operation, the truffles shouldn't be in the water flow for more than a couple of minutes.

Keep the smallest truffle (or a piece of truffle) whole and place the rest in the bowl of a food processor with the anchovies and green garlic.

Adding the olive oil in a stream, grind into a loose paste. Add black pepper to taste, and salt if necessary, though the sauce should be salty enough from the anchovies.

Place the truffle sauce in a warm, shallow serving bowls.

Cook the spaghetti very al dente in boiling, well salted water. If using, chop the pine nuts roughly.

Fish the spaghetti out of the water with tongs and transfer them into the bowl with the truffle sauce and toss well to coat thoroughly with the truffle sauce.

If they appear a little too dry, add a few spoonfuls of pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce.

Shave the reserved truffle on top and serve immediately as it is or dusted with the pine nuts.

NOTE:

  • I find that truffles are best kept well wrapped in a paper towel then placed in an airtight container.
  • Keep the dirt on them until you are ready to use them, it helps preserve them longer.
  • I have eaten well kept truffles up until after 2+ weeks of having received them from Piero and they were still delicious, though they had lost a bit of fragrance and the texture was a little softer.
  • Should you wish to freeze them, clean them as outlined above then wrap them in paper towel and aluminum place them in an airtight container and freeze them.
  • Better to use them frozen, without defrosting.
  • Note that frozen truffles are better used in sauces rather than shaved.

Semolina gnocchi with asparagus, prosciutto and fontina

My godmother, aunt Paola, traces the early showings to my passion for all things food to a day in the mid 70's when I was barely the age my little boy is now, 9. She was hosting me in her striking apartment in the center of Pisa and thought that preparing a dish of gnocchi alla romana, the semolina dumplings every Italian kid counts among their  favorites, would best express the godmotherly love she felt, and still does, for me.

When she didn't get the expected wows, she asked. It seems my answer was a diplomatically vague remark on her skills as a cook. She pressed, until I admitted that while they pleased my eye much, they failed to engage my palate.

We laugh about it today, that I have acquired the wisdom to understand how poetic this humble dish can be.

Below is a version I enriched with staple and seasonal pantry ingredients and have taught to much appreciation of my students.

I will be teaching it again on Tuesday, June 11 during my Gnocchi Primer at 18 Reasons in the Mission. Join me, it'll be fun.

Gnocchi alla romana con asparagi, prosciutto e Asiago Semolina gnocchi with asparagus, prosciutto and Asiago

for 8 people:Gnocchi di semolino 1 small shallot salt 1/2 bunch asparagus 3 tablespoons olive oil 4 slices minced prosciutto splash white wine 1 quart whole milk salt 1/2 pound semolina 2 egg yolks 4 tablespoons butter 1/3 cup grated parmigiano grated nutmeg and pepper to taste 1/4 cup shredded asiago

 

Mince the shallot with a generous pinch of salt. Snap off the whitish bottom part of the asparagus and peel away any conspicuously fibrous skin. Slice the asparagus in thin wheels, leaving the very tips whole.

Soften the onion into the olive oil and add the asparagus. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add in the prosciutto and caramelize for 1 to 2 minutes. Deglaze with a splash of white wine.

Cover and continue cooking until the asparagus is tender, about 10 to 12 minutes, adding liquid along the way if necessary. Adjust salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.

Bring the milk to a boil with a generous pinch of salt. Slowly drizzle in the semolina whisking continuously. The mixture will quickly become dense.

Cook for another 10 minutes, mixing constantly and detaching from the sides and bottom. Remove from the heat and work in the yolks.

Season with 3 tablespoons of the butter, parmigiano, pepper and nutmeg. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

Evenly work the asparagus and prosciutto mixture into the semolina dough. Pour the dough onto a lightly dampened surface and spread to an even layer 1/2” high. Let cool.

In the meantime, butter the bottom of a baking dish with the remaining tablespoon of butter.

With a small cookie cutter of your preferred shape, cut small pieces from the semolina dough. To avoid the cookie cutter getting to sticky, dip it into water after each 5 to 6 uses.

Arrange the gnocchi into the baking dish in increasingly shrinking layers, so that, when all used, they will form a sort of pyramid.

Cover with a generous dusting of the shredded asiago and place in a 375˚F oven for about 15 minutes, until heated thoroughly and somewhat golden.

Serve immediately.

 

A cauliflower in my kitchen

Alemany Market cropped II See that blushing cauliflower peeking in between tomatoes, cucumbers and mint?

It and I were hanging in my kitchen in search of just the right flavor, happy in each others' company, relaxed in the absence of Child AND Husband.

Florets are easy, we agreed, but both it and I were set on not wasting the crunch of stalks and leaves on compost. Inspiration struck, I grabbed a knife. The conversation ended as I made my way to the stove.

This happened next and I like to think the cauliflower felt the love...

 

Cavolfiore cropped

Cimette di cavolfiore condite al forno Dressed and roasted cauliflower florets

for 6 to 8 people:

1 cauliflower head pinch of salt 1 handful parsley 1 tablespoon anchovy paste (or 2 anchovy fillets minced into a paste) 1/2 cup coarse breadcrumbs 2 tablespoons grated pecorino juice and zest of 1 lemon pinch of black pepper 1/3 cup olive oil

Remove the green leaves and stalks from the cauliflower and save. Cut small florets and steam until slightly yielding but still crunchy.

In the meantime, pick the parsley leaves and chop them finely. Throw in a bowl and combine with the anchovy paste, breadcrumbs, pecorino, juice, zest and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil in a stream.

Add the steamed floret and toss to coat with the dressing completely. Transfer to a baking dish and place in a 375˚F oven  for about 20 to 25 minutes, until they reach your preferred tenderness.

Serve warm to room temperature.

NOTES:

  • Substitute breadcrumbs with chopped toasted almonds to keep the crunch and lose the gluten
  • For an extra kick, use red pepper flakes instead of black pepper
  • For a touch of sweetness, toss in a handful of currants

 

Vellutata di gambi di cavolfiore con patate e porri al profumo di salvia e limone Sage and lemon scented soup of cauliflower stalks, potatoes and leeks

Minestra di gambi di cavolfiorefor 6 to 8 people:

stalks and leaves of 1 cauliflower head 2 medium size yellow potatoes 3 leeks 1 lemon 1/4 cup raw unsalted pistachios 6 to 7 sage leaves 3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 splash dry white wine 1/2 cup grated pecorino

 

Chunk the cauliflower leaves and stalks. Peel and dice the potatoes.

Remove the green tops from the leeks and strip the first layer. Slice in thin wheels and float in abundant water, agitating often to let the grit fall off.

Zest the lemon. Mince the sage leaves and mix with the zest. Grind the pistachios, combine them with half the zest and sage mixture. Cut the naked lemon in wedges.

In a sauce pot, heat the olive oil with the remaining zest and sage mixture. Add the drained leeks with a generous pinch of salt. Sauté over medium heat stirring often, until translucent and quite soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the cauliflower and potatoes. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes and deglaze with the wine. When you can no longer smell the acidity of the wine, cover with warm water, bring to a boil then lower the heat to simmer.

Let simmer until all the vegetables are soft enough to be very easily pierced with the tip of a knife, about 20 to 25 minutes.

In the meantime, line up 3 matching small serving bowl and arrange the pistachios, lemon and sage mixture in one, the lemon wedges in the other and the grated pecorino in the third.

Purèe the soup in a blender or with a stick blender or by cranking it through a food mill.

Pour back in the pot to simmer for another 4 to 5 minutes. This is the time to consider thickness: if deemed to your taste, adjust salt and pepper. If you prefer a runnier soup, add a bit of water before adjusting the seasoning.

Serve hot with the small serving bowls of condiments you prepared earlier, advising your guest to layer as follows: soup, pecorino, pistachios and a squeeze of lemon.

Pennette in spicy asparagus sauce

Before we delve into more kitchen fun, please forgive some lack of modesty and let me share this delightful profile of my work by the Marin Independent Journal's Vicki Larson. I hope you enjoy it. And now for your spring table.

Yolanda and I in front of our Madison Avenue catering kitchen

 

I was a caterer a lifetime ago, a fairly successful one at that. And I loved it, the inventiveness, the rush, the esthetics, the people, the research. The flip side was the constant lack of time. Among the many shortcuts caterers take to add hours to their days, foregoing decent nutrition ranks in the top 3.

But I was lucky, my business partner and dearest friend, Yolanda Garretti, dieter extraordinaire, kept us on path with healthy and quick creations we could throw together between balancing a stack of a baroness's 17th century plates and the salt in our risotto.

This spring dish remains my favorite.

 

 

Pennette piccanti agli asparagi ~ Pennette in spicy asparagus sauce

for 6 people 1 bunch asparagusPennette agli asparagi 1/2 cup EV olive oil salt to taste 1 to 2 pinches red pepper flakes 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano 1 box pennette

Snap the bottom whitish part off the asparagus stem and peel off the more fibrous exterior. Steam the asparagus until soft but still bright green.

Cut off the tips and roughly cut the stems. Set the tips aside and place the stems in a blender or food processor with the olive oil. Season with salt and red pepper flakes to taste.

Blend until completely smooth and pour in a warm bowl.

Cook the pennette in a generous pot of salted boiling water until well al dente. Drain and toss  with the asparagus cream and the tips, adding a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of cooking water if the pasta is not creamy enough.

Dust with the parmigiano and serve immediately.