Trips to Italy

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.

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

Discover hydroponic waterboarding, travel to Italy and eat tomatoes filled with rice and basil

For those of you eager for my recipes, feel free to skip today's anecdote about family life, but do click here to join me on an adventure to DISCOVER MAREMMA, one of Italy's best kept secrets. The trip is scheduled for the 3rd week in September. My 5th grader told me Thursday morning he needed a total of 20 small potted plants of 4 different kinds to conduct and experiment that would start exactly at 12:40pm.

We rushed to the local garden center to acquire the plantlings while I prodded for details. Ernesto and his classmates had devised 4 different hydroponic environments in which to observe how the same plant reacted. Why 5 of each then? He needed a control living in an ideal environment, he then explained the numbers/letters cross referencing grid he drew to chart the progress of the trial.

The ideal environment? "Soil, of course", Ernesto said. Then he gathered a couple of different kind of vinegars and asked that we stop to get a sports drink on the way to school. By Tuesday, I should know exactly what age balsamic is best to kill an organic basil plant in 48 hours or less.

Boston Participation medal
Boston Participation medal

This charmingly fallacious study in plant waterboarding may have in part been inspired by my excitement about Caleb Harper's CityFarm project, at which I got a first row look last week when I spoke at MIT MediaLab as one of the panelists who considered the intersection of tradition and innovation in large scale food production.

Plants waterboarding

Plants waterboarding

If I can get my kid to forego the vinegars and sports drinks, our loft might even see its own vertical farm soon. In the meantime, I managed to save one of the basil plants for this oven friendly tomato dish I so adore.


Pomodori al riso con patate

Rice filled tomatoes with potatoes

for 6 people

6 round cluster tomatoes

salt to taste

1 garlic clove

lots of fresh basil leaves

9 tablespoon rice

olive oil

2 to 3 medium size yellow potatoes

pepper to taste

Wash the tomatoes and cut a thin disk off the stem side of each tomato. Set the disks aside as you will use them later as a lid.

Using a melon baller or a small spoon, remove the pulp and seeds of the tomato, leaving a shell of skin and flesh. Salt the interior of the tomato shells and place them open side down to drain on paper towels.

Discard the harder parts and save the softer, more liquid part of the pulp.

Chop the garlic roughly and tear the basil leaves with your hands.

Place the saved tomato pulp, garlic and basil in the food processor or blender. Add a quantity of water equal to about 1/3 of the liquid you already have and 1/4 cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and blend for a couple of minutes

Peel the potatoes and cut each in 8 long wedges. Season them with salt, pepper and olive oil.

Spoon 1.5 tablespoons of rice in each tomato shell, then fill to the brim with the blended tomato mixture. Mix using the back of the spoon and top with more liquid if needed.

Arrange the tomatoes in a baking dish lined with parchment paper and cover each with the "lids" you set aside.

Stick the potato wedges in between the tomatoes. Sprinkle with some salt and drizzle with olive oil. Everything should be quite snug in the baking dish.

Bake at 350˚F for about an hour. The rice and potatoes should both be thoroughly cooked and the tomato skins a little wrinkly. They are best served between warm and room temperature and are a perfect midnight snack.

NOTES

  • My mother taught me that the best tomatoes for this are what I know as costoluti-meaning they have costole-ribs. See their picture below, if you find them. most definitely use them, as their sweet flesh and thin skin definitely pays off.