Winter

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 8: pici al tartufo nero

My mom and dad loved a good party and New Year's Eve was, needless to say, the perfect occasion. The crowds were large and while the adults played baccarat and roulette in the upstairs salon (yes, Italians like a friendly gamble during the holiday season), we children ran around unchecked across the garden, in a storage room that had cleaned and heated for the night. Somewhere in the early 70's, I remember standing by a ping pong table outfitted to buffet, my senses glued by an enormous bowl of pici-a rustic, handmade spaghetti-graced by month old olive oil and little brown specks of what I knew to be black truffle.

tartufi
tartufi

That first encounter with a seminal holiday food remains a brick in the foundation of my house of food. I have since recreated and taught this dish in my classes and last night, after having ascertained of it kosherness, I made it for a 7th day of Hanukkah celebration at the home of dear friends.


Pici al tartufo nero

Handmade spaghetti with black truffle

for the pici

1/3 pound semolina flour

3/4 pound all purpose

pinch of salt

1 egg

warm water

 

for the sauce

2 garlic cloves

olive oil-preferably olio nuovo, the kind that has been pressed the previous November

salt and pepper to taste

1 handful parsley

1 black winter truffle

grated pecorino (optional)

 

In a bowl, mix the flours and salt. Add the egg, olive oil and start working the ingredients while adding a thin stream of water.

Work in just enough water to bring everything together into a shaggy looking, somewhat crumbly ball. At this stage the mixture should be moist and a little soft but not wet or tacky.

Once you have a satisfactory shaggy ball, that has gathered as close to all of the ingredients as possible, is soft enough to knead but with some resistance, is not too wet and giving, but not so hard that it can barely be pressed together, start kneading.

Grabbing the top third of the ball with your fingertips and pull it up and away from the center. Now use the heel of your hand to press the top third into the middle third. Lastly, still using the heel of your hand, vigorously fold everything into the bottom third.

Turn the dough a quarter hour and repeat the pulling/pressing/folding motion until the dough is smooth and elastic and springs back quickly when poked with a finger.

The pulling/folding/pressing motion will slowly turn the dough inside out and outward in, ensuring that all of it is kneaded, rather than just some parts.

The process will take 10 to 15 minutes at the end of which the dough should be cool and slightly moist to the touch but not tacky. It should also spring back into place quickly when poked.

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 the dough relax for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

In the meantime, prepare the sauce.

Clean the truffle: loosen dirt by brushing vigorously with a clean nail brush, then rinse under running cold water while still brushing until you've removed all the dirt. Dry well with a clean paper towel.

Roll the dough to sheets about 12” long and 1/4” thick. Cut each sheet into long strips about 1/2” wide.

Take the first strip and separate it from the rest. Grab one end, fold it and pinch it shut between your thumb and index finger.

Hold up the pinched end and roll the strip of dough back and forth between the palm of your free hand and a wooden surface. Exert light pressure otherwise you will not be able to roll.

Keep rolling toward the opposite end of the strip while gently tugging the pinched side to stretch the spaghetto.

You will yield a long, thick, uneven noodle that can be dipped in semolina then placed on a sheet pan to slightly dry.

Repeat the operation until you have finished all the dough.

Drop the pici in boiling salted water.

While the pasta is cooking, pour about half a cup of the olive oil into a warm serving bowl, add 4 to 5 spoonfuls of the water in which the pasta is cooking and whisk into an emulsion. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper.

The pic will take about 10 to 15 minutes. When done, strain from the water using a handheld strainer or tongs and transfer it into the bowl. Toss to coat evenly.

Using a microplane zester, grate the truffle over the pici. Toss well, adding some more olive oil and pasta cooking water if it appears too dry.

Serve immediately with the grated pecorino on the side.

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 5: cappone bollito con 2 salse

I am a little off with my countdown, I just realized. If my limited math skills serve me correctly, 12-5=7 but 25-20=5. Instead of cramming 7 recipes in 5 days, we will continue our journey past Christmas to make the best out of leftovers. And nothing produces better leftovers than the capon my mother unfailingly poached every Christmas. In case you are wondering, a capon is a chicken whose renounces his manhood-possibly not willfully-tobecome larger, fattier, tenderer, juicier and much more flavorful.

I am lucky enough that in San Francisco, I actually get to pick which butcher will do me the honor of purveying the ingredient without which Christmas just isn't Christmas for me, elsewhere in the US capons might not be terribly common, so order it in advance from your specialty butcher.

 


Cappone bollito con 2 salse

Poached capon with 2 sauces

 

for the bird

1 onion

6 cloves garlic

2 celery stalks

3 carrots

2 leeks

1 lemon

2 to 3 bay leaves

6 to 8 peppercorns

1/2 cup white wine

1 handful coarse salt

1 capon

 

for the salsa verde

1 tablespoon capers in salt

1 clove garlic

1 bunch parsley

1 lemon

3 to 4 anchovies fillets

thick slice stale country bread

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

splash of vinegar

 

for the salsa gialla

1 pinch saffron

3 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons butter

1 pint capon stock

1 egg yolk

juice of 1 lemon

salt and pepper to taste

 

Peel the onion and spike it with the cloves. Peel the celery and carrots. Remove the green leaves from the leeks. Score them along the middle and remove the dirt under cold running water. Cut 2 slices from the lemon.

Fill a pot with water big enough to hold the capon fully submerged. Add the spiked onion, celery, carrots, leeks, lemon slices, bay leaves, peppercorns, wine and salt and bring to a boil.

Turn the heat to a simmer and lower the capon into the water. It will need to poach gently until very tender, for about 1 hour.

While the capon is cooking, make the sauces.

For the salsa verde: rinse the capers off the salt and soak them in hot water.

Pick and wash the parsley leaves, dry them well.

Smash and peel the garlic.

Grate the zest of the lemon and juice it. Drain the anchovy fillets from the oil.

Remove and discard the crust off the bread slice. Tear the remaining soft part in chunks.

Place the parsley, garlic, zest, juice, anchovies and bread chunks in the food processor bowl.

Drain the capers and add them to the food processor.

Lock and start processing while adding oil in a thick stream. Keep the motor running until you have a homogeneous paste.

Transfer to a bowl adjust the balance of salt, vinegar and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

The salsa gialla will need to wait until the capon is almost done as you are using the stock in which it is poaching.

Ladle a pint of capon stock out of the poaching pot and filter through a paper towel.

Crumble the saffron threads in between your thumb and index finger into a small sauce pot and toast it gently for 2 to 2 minutes.

Add the flour and very lightly toast for 2 to 3 minutes, whisking it around constantly.

Add the butter, It will melt with the flour and saffron into a deliciously fragrant, golden roux to which you will add the hot stock in a thin stream, whisking continuously.

Keep whisking until the sauce thickens and emulsifies well.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the yolk and lemon juice.

Adjust salt and pepper and transfer to a cool container right away to avoid curdling the yolk.

When the capon is ready, drain from the stock and cut as you would a chicken.

Arrange in a shallow bowl with a few ladlefuls of the stock on the bottom to keep warm.

Place the capon in the middle of the table with the 2 sauces alongside it.

NOTES

  • A capon can easily serve 10 to 12 people, for a smaller party, you can use a chicken
  • The stock is like a chicken's to the Nth power, you will have a lot since the capon is quite large, keep it for a myriad other uses
  • Keep the vegetables in the stock, we will use them in our Christmas leftover project

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 4: Bellini invernale speziato alle pere

As this audience might have imagined by now, I adore cooking, but it is hard work. I often find that a little sip of something special can mitigate the fatigue. Despite the undaunted efforts of my sommelier friends to counter the tendency, I continue to enjoy light fruity drinks often based on prosecco, a bottle of which is a staple in my refrigerator.

I view prosecco as a blank slate that allows me to raid my pantry of spices, syrups, fruits and even jams...kind of like the crostata of drinks.

This is my latest toastworthy obsession, born during a recent visit to New York, where I sipped a sparkling pear concoction for the better part of a mid-Eastern flair brunch in this lovely restaurant with my darling friend Andrea.

 


 

Bellini invernale speziato alle pere

Spiced pear winter Bellini

for 1 bottle of prosecco

3 pears

1 lemon

1/4 cup+2 tablespoons+2 tablespoons fine sugar

cinnamon to taste

1 Fuyu persimmon

1 small pomegranate

 

While the prosecco is chilling, quarter, core and chunk the pears. Zest and juice the lemon.

Mix the sugar with enough cinnamon to make it agreeable to your taste.

Place the pear chunks, zest, lemon juice and the quarter cup of sugar in the blender jug and add 3 cups of room temperature water.

Start the motor and blend until a fine, runny purè is yielded.

In the meantime, slice half the persimmon paper thin and seed the pomegranate.

Fill the bottom third of a flute with the blended pear and sink in a slice of persimmon and 3 to 4 pomegranate seeds.

Slowly top with prosecco, letting it slide down the side to minimize foam.

Sprinkle the foam left on top with a pinch of the remaining cinnamon sugar.

Raise your glass and sip slowly while slaving away on that timballo di pasta.

NOTES:

  • You can swap cinnamon for a spice with a similar profile, like clove, nutmeg or even ginger
  • If you use pears with a red peel (Crimson or Red Bartlett, for example) your glass will be festively rosy
  • Use a sparkling rosè for an even more intense festive look

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.

Brasato in red wine part II

Remember my musings on loss and sadness last week and how I assuaged them by braising meat? First of all, sorry about the whining.  I swear I am fine and thank you so for letting me exorcise demons on the page. I was touched by how many reached out to me. Once again, food, family, friend proved to be my all-healing holy trinity. The brasato was every bite as soothing as needed for my passing blues. Its powers, heightened by sharing its consumption, kept on gifting in different guises as I re-purposed it into a pasta sauce first and then into meatballs.

Those who come to my classes know that one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is re-purpose leftovers. I have actually taught 2 series of classes at 18 Reasons on the subject.

Until another leftover class makes it on the docket, I am sharing the two dishes that gave my brasato a second and a third life.

Rigatoni al sugo di brasato Rigatoni with braised beef sauceRigatoni al brasato

for 4 to 6 people 1 small yellow onion 1/2 tablespoon lard or olive oil 1 teaspoon grated orange zest 6 slices brasato 1/2 cup dry marsala (or sherry or madera) 1/2 cup pureed vegetable sauce from brasato 1 pound box of rigatoni (or other short ribbed pasta of your choice) grated pecorino (optional)

Slice the onion thinly and soften it in the lard heated in a skillet, with the zest and a generous pinch of salt. Continue cooking over medium low heat until the onion starts turning beige, adding a bit of water if necessary.

In the meantime dice the brasato slices quite small and add to the colored onions. Turn up the heat and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Deglaze with the marsala.

When the smell of the wine has gone from pungent to sweet, add the pureed sauce and simmer everything for about 10 minutes to reduce and thicken.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in a generous pot of salted boiling water until very al dente. Strain it with a colander and transfer it into the skillet. Finish cooking it in the brasato sauce adding 2 to 3 spoonfuls of cooking water and a splash of olive oil for sheen.

Serve hot with the grated pecorino on the side.

 

Polpette di brasato Brasato meatballs

no spaghetti here, just great meatballs

for 6 to 8 people 2 slices day old bread milk for soaking the bread 1/2 pound leftover brasato 2 slices prosciutto 1/4 pound ground veal 1/4 pound ground pork 1 small handful parsley leaves 1 egg + 1 yolk 1 tablespoons grated parmigiano grated zest of half lemon nutmeg to taste salt and pepper to taste 1/2 yellow onion 1 carrot 1 celery stalk 2 tablespoons lard or olive oil splash white wine 2 tablespoons tomato concentrate

Soak the bread in milk until soft. Squeeze it lightly and place it in a food processor bowl. Add the brasato and prosciutto slices. Process until ground finely but not into a paste. Transfer to a bowl.

Pick and mince the parsley.

Add the ground meats, egg, yolk, parmigiano, parsley and zest. Season to taste with nutmeg salt and pepper. Mix all ingredients together well with your hands.

Wet your palms and roll round meatballs of about 2" in diameter. Set aside on a plate.

Slice the onions, carrot and celery thinly.

Heat half the lard in a sauté pan and brown the meatballs in it, in batches if necessary to keep them from overcrowding the pan. Transfer to a platter.

Add the rest of the lard to the sauté pan and soften the sliced vegetables in it for about 10 minutes over medium heat and with a generous pinch of salt.

Place the browned meatballs back in the pan and turn up the heat.

After approximately 2 minutes, deglaze with the wine. When the smell of the wine has gone from pungent to sweet, add the tomato concentrate and about 1 cup of hot water. Bring to a simmer and turn the heat down to medium low.

Cover the meatballs and braise them slowly for 20 to 25 minutes, adding small amounts of water if necessary. Keep in mind that the liquid should come to no more than 1/3 of the way up the meatballs.

The sauce will darken and thicken while the meatballs cook.

Transfer to a platter and douse with the cooking sauce. Serve hot with a salad and some crusty bread.

 

Loss and comfort: brasato in red wine

It's been such a couple of weeks, marred by losses of various entity, none earth-shattering standing alone, but all rather unsettling in compound. Some were luxury losses, like finally watching the last episode of Breaking Bad or realizing San Francisco's brief summer is surrendering to winter. Some were collective, like the passing of Marcella Hazan and that of Lou Reed. But others were more personally touching: a close girlfriend losing her mother, the realization that my child's attention to me is waning, my aging, beloved aunt undergoing surgery, a friendship lost along the way.

There is just no ignoring that I have been feeling sad. Laurie Anderson's piece on her life with Lou Reed on Rolling Stone magazine gave me pause to reflect about how we feel and are in the face of sadness.

Losses and endings are change, part of life really, which is often less than perfect but always right in the end. I feel sad but am still happy. I like to feel sad, because accepting the occasional sadness serves to crystallize happiness and temper arrogance. Sadness makes me a little happier every time I am smart enough to let it in.

And when I do open the door to sadness, it is an inspiration for cooking. In the face of feeling sad, I am my best as a cook, because cooking is the happiness in which I am always comforted.

In the fragrance of cinnamon, orange and red wine braising meat, I found shelter from winter cold, comfort from loss and my ongoing happiness.

ready for the oven

Brasato di manzo e pancetta fresca al vino rosso Beef and pork belly braised in red wine

3 pound piece beef cut for braising (brisket, chuck, flat iron, shank) 1.5 pounds pork belly salt 1 yellow onion 2 carrots 2 celery stalks 1/2 bunch red chard or red beet tops 2 cups chicken stock 2 tablespoons tomato concentrate 2 tablespoons lard (or olive oil) 1 cinnamon stick grated zest of 1 orange 2 bay leaves 1/2 bottle of good, full bodied red wine pepper to taste

The evening before, season the meats generously with salt and place in the refrigerator. Take them out about an hour before you plan to start cooking to let them come to room temperature.

In the meantime, slice the onion in thin half moons, chop the carrots and celery, wash and chop the chard or beet tops. Warm the stock and dilute the tomato concentrate in it.

Heat the lard in a Dutch oven on the stove top. Carefully brown the beef and pork in it on all sides and over a medium low flame. Transfer to a plate.

just out of the oven

Soften the vegetables in the Dutch oven with the cinnamon stick, zest and bay leaves. Turn the heat off and place the meat back in the Dutch oven. Cover with the wine and stock and season with salt and pepper.

Lid the pot and place it in a 350˚F oven for 2.5 to 3 hours, until the meat is fork tender.

Discard the bay and cinnamon. Rest the meat on a cutting board while finishing the sauce.

Using a hand held blender, puree the vegetable chunks in the liquid where the meat has braised. Let the sauce simmer while cutting the meat and adjusting it on a platter.

Pour the sauce over the sliced meat and serve.

NOTES:

  • Perfect accompaniments for this recipe are polenta, mashed or steamed potatoes, or gnocchi with butter and parmigiano
  • Brasato is even better the day after. For maximum effect, let it rest in its cooking liquid overnight before preparing it for serving