italian cooking classes

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.

Cooking in Italy: Chocolate on my sandals

  Sandali al cioccolatoI adore these sandals, chosen by my child among several pairs he had me model during a shoe shopping session he deemed the most Mamma/Ernesto fun  we had this year. They have style, comfort. They sexily showcase my ankles-sexy ankles being a critical criterion of beauty for Italians.

And since last week they are further adorned by a permanent chocolate stain acquired at the splendid Scuola del Cioccolato Perugina in my hometown of Perugia, where I spent 2 days under the tutelage of Maestro Massimiliano Guidubaldi.

You might remember last summer's post about my incipient collaboration with Perugina Chocolate. As those buds continue to blossom, Baci and other Perugina products have inspired me to create, share, teach and immerse myself in the story of quality that is Perugina.

 

Baci making con Marina

 

Rediscovering and elaborating this part of my heritage has been a path of much joy: from creating delectable Baci based desserts, to watching the faces of children making Baci from scratch, to telling the tale of a family where so many thought out of the box and from which I am proud to descend.

 

 

 

Alcohol:Chocolate pairing

 

Massimiliano and I tempered, molded, dipped. We improvised, we taught and, as in what has by now become a yearly tradition, imbibed remarkable amounts of espresso and alcohol, including a 10am session on how to properly pair chocolate with alcohol that started with the playful match of a glass of Sagrantino Passito VS a bar of Luisa Dark 51%  and ended with reserve rum whipping the snap of a 70% Nero Sfoglia into perfect shape.

Chocolate fun in Perugia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ernesto e cartigli

 

 

The 2-day chocolate marathon ended with a 4-hand bilingual class delivered to a group of 10 which included my sister Silvia and my little Ernesto, who beamed at his creations and stated: "Mamma, it's just in our genes". Well, if the stain on my sandals is any indication, then Ernesto might be right: this is something I just can't seem to scratch off.

 

 

 

I will be teaching classes modeled on my experience at Scuola del Cioccolato throughout the year-including Baci making from scratch, of course-and will integrate more chocolate work and Baci desserts from my growing collection in the Italian cooking workshops I hold at the Italian Consulate in San Francisco on the first Wednesday of each month from September to June, from 1 to 5pm. Click here for my calendar of events. As always, the teachings are for home cooks, who, as I have been learning through my work at the Scuola, can achieve professional grade results while working chocolate at home without any particular implement, other than some techniques and a lot of passion.

Until you can join one of my classes, try this creme caramel al gianduja, a creation which found much favor during a reception the Perugina team hosted at Eataly in Chicago in early May and is yet easy enough that my 18 Reasons Mother's Day kids class could make it. By the way, much credit for me managing to perfect this confection goes to the invaluable sounding board that is my friend and accomplished pastry chef Deirdre Davis.

Creme caramel al gianduja Gianduja creme caramel

Gianduja, a type of chocolate Italians call the 4th flavor, is a mix of dark and milk chocolate and hazelnut paste, created in Piedmont in the early 1800's. This sweet is best made the day before, to maximize the advantage of a careful cooling process. However, times can be shortened in a pinch (see note)

for 6 peocreme caramel al giandujaple 1/4 pound sugar 2 tablespoons water 1 teaspoon Frangelico 2.5 cups milk 1 vanilla bean 1/2 cup well toasted hazelnuts 10 ounces gianduja chocolate 4 eggs 4 yolks 1/4 tsp salt

Place half the sugar, water and Frangelico in a small sauce pot. Place over medium heat and melt without stirring but often swirling the pot around.

 

The sugar will slowly melt, then start bubbling. At some point, the color will start turning from clear whitish to beige, golden and, eventually, dark brown. When a marked burnt smell can be detected, it is ready.

Pour it on the bottom of a deep circular mold with a hole in the middle. Swirl the mold all around so that the caramel coats the sides and bottom of the mold. Set it aside to cool and harden.

Heat the milk to just before boiling. In the meantime, score the vanilla bean and chop the hazelnuts.

Remove the milk from the heat and drop the vanilla bean and about 1/3 of the hazelnuts in it. Cover the pot and set it aside to infuse for 15 to 20 minutes.

In the meantime, cut the gianduja in small pieces. Whisk the eggs, yolks and remaining sugar until the sugar has completely dissolved and it is pale yellow and a little fluffy-this can be done in an electric mixer.

Strain the milk and pour it over the cut gianduja. Whisk until it is smooth then gently pour it into the eggs and sugar mixture. Stir the mixture with care until it reaches uniform color and texture.

Strain everything twice through a very fine mesh sieve then pour it into the mold over the solidified caramel.

Heat the oven to 350˚F and set up a water bath with rack on the bottom. Set the mold in the water bath, tent with aluminum foil and bake until set, about 60 to 70 minutes.

Remove the water bath from the oven and leave the mold in until the water has completely cooled.

Remove the mold from the water bath, wrap tightly and hold overnight in the refrigerator to dissolve max amount of caramel.

To unmold, run a paring knife around the edges of the mold, place a round platter on top, turn over, tap all around and gently shake. The creme caramel will slide right off.

Sprinkle with the remaining hazelnuts right before serving and enjoy cold.

NOTES:

  • If you are short on time, you can move the mold to an already cool water bath to hasten the cooling process. Leave it in for an hour or so then place it in the refrigerator until you are ready to unmold it.
  • The creme caramel will still come out, though it will be a little creamier than expected and the caramel will not be as fully dissolved as it would be in an overnight rest.
  • Lastly, the sieving passage is critical to eliminate the foam after from the mixture. An excessively foamy mixture poured into the mold will shrink down to little and be taken over by the caramel.

Want to learn how to make bread and bone marrow gnocchi this Sunday?

...then join me at 18 Reasons to learn how and why Italians never waste old bread. The class, part of a 3-Sunday series called L'ingegno in cucina-The delicious economy of Italian home cooking will run from 5 to 8:30pm and will be, as always, a very hands-on workshop of intense deliciousness ending in a communal dinner. You can sigFocaccia pane vecchio e pomodorin up here for just one class or for the whole series, whose upcoming themes are risotto and frittata, two of the other crafty ways Italian use leftovers in their cooking.

Other items on the menu are focaccia di pane-in the picture on the left, pappa col pomodoro-a Tuscan bread and tomato soup and, of course, my mom's perfect panzanella, all about which you can read in my Mothers' Day blog post.

I hope to see you there! In the meantime, stay tuned for news on my adventures in Baci Perugina recipes development.

A summer tart or The importance of being Lewis

I am not always happy, indeed there are times when I feel downright disheartened. But I have always considered myself lucky. Lucky because I live, I cook, I love, I share. Lucky because my mindset and my circumstances have afforded me a life I enjoy. Lewis with tart

And lucky because in 2013 and I got to spend my Friday afternoons cooking with Lewis. You all know Lewis, he is that 13 year old into whom every mother hopes their boy will turn.

Lewis is keen, curious and polite. He's not shy but knows when to say nothing. He is engaged and engaging. He's always properly groomed but not fussy. He washes his hands when appropriate and never leaves anything on his plate. Lewis speaks 2 languages fluently and a 3rd not so shabbily. And, as if that wasn't enough, he loves to cook. He is, in short, a perfectly delightful human being and cooking companion.

I have looked hard for what is wrong with Lewis (as the mother of a 9 year old boy, I know perfection is not an innate trait in children). And though I am sure his mother will beg to differ,  I have yet to identify any flaw with which to fault him.

I am taking off to Italy for the summer this Wednesday, which makes today the last of Lewis I get until September. We are ending it sweetly, with tarts and the fruits of summer.

And by the way, I will be in touch from Italy, so stay tuned.

Crostata frangipane bionda alle albicocche Toasted almond cream and apricot tart

Let me preface that I am a less than artful baker, so this recipe relies not on originality but in putting together the well tried techniques of those whose work I find impeccable.

The pastry crust is an old Italian classic, from Pellegrino Artusi's The Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, a 19th century compendium, which is one of my cooking bibles.

I have tried a number of frangipane recipes and the perfect one for my taste remains the one from Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts. It is simple, easy and delicious. I do toast the almonds to a dark blond before grinding and use vanilla bean instead of almond extract, but the balance of ingredients is all Martha's. If you can find them, or have the patience to collect them when apricots are in season, you can make this with apricot kernels.

By the way, Lewis and I will be using apricots simply because I have a large bag of them hanging around, but any type of fruit will work for this recipe, so just go with your preference and your fruit bowl.

for a 9 to 10” tart pan:

Crostate frangipane

Crust: 2 cups (270 grams) flour ½ cup (115 grams) sugar ½ cup (135 grams) butter (or, even better, 90 grams butter and 45 grams lard) 4 egg yolks pinch of salt grated zest of a lemon

Filling: 1 cup almonds 10 apricots 1 vanilla bean 1 stick unsalted butter 1/2 cup sugar 1 egg 3 tablespoons rum 1 tablespoon flour

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.

To make the filling, blanch the almonds, remove the skin and toast them to a dark blond in one layer. Grind them very finely and let cool. Stone and quarter the apricots. Score the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape off the contents.

Cream the butter and sugar until the are pale and fluffy. Mix in the almonds, egg and vanilla. Then add the rum and lastly work in the flour.

Roll the pastry crust to about 1/4" and line the tart pan. Prick gently. Spread the almond cream in it into an even layer rising a just above half way up the sides of the crust.

Arrange the apricot quarters attractively in rows or concentric circles. Bake at 375˚F for approximately 45 minutes, until a knife or toothpick inserted in the center exits slightly wet but clean and clear otherwise.