My Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup

Minestra del Ceci delle Mie Due Nonne

Minestra del Cece 2*     *     *

Every year, just before Christmas Eve, I’ve shared a recipe for seafood, often mentioning the Feast of the Seven Fishes when doing so. To that end, next week’s post will feature another such dish. (See Coming soon to a monitor near you.) Not all Italian families, however, prepare a feast on Christmas Eve. We certainly didn’t when I was very young. My family’s tradition of enjoying a seafood feast didn’t start until a few years later, when Dad would leave the restaurant early, bringing the seafood with him. Prior to that time, our Christmas Eve dinner was nothing special, although always meatless because, being Catholic, meat was not allowed. “Upstairs”, in Zia’s home, baccalà was the main course, with “Nonna”, also, serving today’s soup, garbanzo bean.

Whether you call them garbanzos, chickpeas, or ceci, this bean is a good one to have in your pantry. Very low in fat and high in protein, garbanzos are becoming more popular as gluten-free and vegetarian diets become more common. Most readily available dried or in cans, garbanzos can be used in any number of ways and, when ground, the resulting flour is a viable substitute for gluten flours. In a country where meat was reserved for special occasions, garbanzos were one of several beans Italians used to supply protein to their diets.

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Today’s soup was 1 of the 4 dishes that I prepared for Zia during my last visit. To be honest, she was the dish’s mastermind and I her dutiful sous chef. As you’ll soon see, mine was an easy job. At some point she mentioned that “Grandma”, Mom and Zia’s Mother, also cooked garbanzo bean soup and in the same way as did her Mother-in-Law, “Nonna”. This recipe is a gift from both women, “due nonne“. I’m not certain, however, if this soup is a traditional Marchigiani dish. Yes, both women were from Marche but this soup is quite basic and could very well have originated anywhere in Italy — if not somewhere else. (Perhaps our friend and expert of all things Marchigiani, Mariano Pallottini, will be able to shed some light on this for us.)

As is the case with most of the Bartolini recipes from back in the day, this soup is simple to prepare and relies on a few, commonplace ingredients. As you can imagine, the most important thing you’ll put in your stockpot, therefore, is the stock itself. Here, because the soup was served on Christmas Eve, a day when Catholics were forbidden to eat meat, a vegetable stock is used. Feel free to use whatever type of stock you prefer, though you’ll want to use a rich, full-flavored stock for a soup you’ll be serving on so special a night.

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Minestra di Ceci*     *     *

My Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dried garbanzo beans/chickpeas, inspected to remove stones and the like (see Notes)
  • 2 quarts vegetable stock (see Notes)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • grated Pecorino Romano cheese for serving – omit if vegan

Directions

  1. At least 8 hours or the night before, place the beans in a large bowl and cover with water that is at least 2 inches above the beans. Before use, pour off the water, rinse, and set aside to drain. Do not allow to dry out.
  2. Heat the oil and butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over med-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent — about 5 minutes. Do not allow it to brown. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  3. Add the stock and chickpeas to the pot and stir. Bring to a boil before reducing to a simmer.
  4. Continue to simmer until the beans are as tender as you like. (See Notes)
  5. Check for seasoning before serving with plenty of grated cheese at the table. (Omit or use soy cheese if vegan.)

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Garbanzo Bean Soup*     *     *

Notes

The homemade stock used here was prepared using vegetable odds & ends that I’d been keeping in my freezer. The ingredient list will vary each time the stock is made.

  1. In a large stockpot over med-high heat, add 2 tbsp each of butter and olive oil.
  2. When hot, add broccoli stems, cauliflower cores, carrot peelings, and asparagus stalk trimmings, as well as a quartered large onion, 3 roughly chopped carrots, 3 roughly chopped celery stalks (leaves included), and a few cloves of smashed garlic. Sauté until the vegetables begin to color.
  3. Add a handful of parsley, a quartered tomato (“for color”), and 1 bay leaf before adding enough water to fill the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  4. Continue to cook for at 2 hours, allowing the stock to reduce and the flavors to intensify. Occasionally skim the stock of the film that may coat the its surface. If the stock reduces too much, add water to compensate.
  5. Season with salt and pepper if you intend to use the stock to make vegetable soup. If the stock is to be used in other recipes, best to leave it salt-free and season it when used.
  6. Once cooled, refrigerate for no more than a few days or store, frozen, for up to 1 month.

When using dry beans, you must take a few minutes to inspect them, looking for small stones and/or beans that are discolored or otherwise spoilt. Discard them.

We’ve found that 1 cup (200 g) of dried beans per quart (950 ml) of stock will yield a soup with just the right “beans to stock ratio” in every bowl. You may wish to add more or less stock to suit your own tastes.

Cooking times will depend upon the type of bean — canned or dried — that you use.

  • If dried, the longer they are allowed to soak, the less time needed to cook. Even so, they will take at least 60 minutes — more like 90 — to cook fully.
  • If canned, rinse before using and they should be ready to eat once they are heated through. Taste before serving to ensure that they meet your preferences.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

 Eel in the Style of Le MarcheNo listing of traditional Italian dishes served on Christmas Eve would be complete without mentioning eel. Yes, eel. Served on Christmas Eve almost exclusively, live anguille, eels, can be found in tanks at the largest and best-equipped Italian markets beginning around December 15th.  You can learn how my family prepared the slippery devils by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Squid Ink Pasta PreviewSquid Ink Pasta with Clams and Bottarga

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Today We’re Making Agnolotti del Plin

I’ve been fortunate to visit Italy several times and, in the past, my goal was to eat my way up, down, and across the peninsula, Sicily included. Safe to say: “Mission accomplished.” This last visit was different, though, and probably due to my joining WordPress. I wasn’t satisfied to just enjoy my meal, I wanted to know its ingredients and, if lucky enough to have an English-speaking wait person, its preparation. If you saw the FaceBook entries I published during that trip, most were photos of the meals we enjoyed. With a notoriously bad memory, this was the easiest way to record those dishes and, hopefully, jog my memory months, even years, later. Such is the case with today’s agnolotti … kinda.

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Agnolotti served*     *     *

While in Bologna, one night I ate at a small restaurant that I chose because it was crowded with locals and had a nice outdoor seating area. Coming from Chicago, eating supper outdoors in mid-May is something you don’t pass up if the opportunity presents itself. I ordered the tortellini and asked my waiter how they were prepared. Looking puzzled, he disappeared and returned with a woman I was to learn was a sous chef. In broken English — that was still far better than my Italian —  she answered my questions and before leaving, mentioned that she was from Piedmont, Piemonte, coincidentally the region of Italy that is home to agnolotti. I asked how she made her agnolotti, she smiled and said that the filling for the tortellini I had ordered was very similar to her own agnolotti filling recipe. Our entire conversation didn’t last 5 minutes — it was a busy night — but she did give me its list of ingredients before returning to the kitchen. When my dinner arrived, I took a photo and made a note of her ingredient list.

Jump ahead now to last month, November. Traditionally, it’s the time for my last visit to Michigan before Winter sets in. While there, I like to fix Zia a birthday dinner and maybe even a Christmas dinner, since I won’t be with her for either events. This year, I wanted to serve her agnolotti for her birthday dinner. The only problem with that plan was that I had never made agnolotti before.

The Saturday before I left for Michigan was the last day the Chicago area’s farmers markets were open. When I returned home, I realized that there wasn’t much time for me to make a test batch of agnolotti. I was to leave in a few days and had much to do beforehand. Not wishing to use premium ingredients for something that would be little more than a kitchen experiment, I dug around my fridge and freezers for ingredients and that’s how today’s filling came about. Well, having bought a bunch of lacinato kale, cavolo nero, at the market that morning certainly didn’t hurt matters any. Let’s be clear. I seriously doubt this is in any way a traditional Piemontese recipe. I will say, though, that it was surprisingly good, good enough to convince me to share the recipe along with this instructional post for making Agnolotti del Plin. When I make the filling again — and I will make it again — I won’t grind it so thoroughly and will use it to make ravioli.

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As you know, stuffed pastas are popular in Italy, with ravioli, tortellini and cappelletti being the most common. Agnolotti are a stuffed pasta that, as I mentioned, originated in Piedmont and are almost always handmade. Their filling consists primarily of roasted meat, though exceptions abound. (This is consistent with the filling recipe that I was given at the restaurant.) I was surprised to learn that traditionally, freshly cooked agnolotti were eaten as-is, without any form of dressing/sauce at all. The family ate them, one at a time, from a large serving at the table’s center.

Agnolotti del Plin are formed by pinching the dough in-between the individual agnolotto, “plin” being the Piemontese word for “pinch”. As you’ll soon see, once pinched, the agnolotti are cut and ready to be cooked. There is another way to make agnolotti and you’ll see how that’s done in a future post. This one is already getting too long.

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Pinching Agnolotti*     *     *

How to make Agnolotti del Plin

with a Chicken Gizzard Filling

Agnolotti con i Ventrigli del Pollo

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (450 g) chicken gizzards, trimmed and chopped
  • 3.5 oz (100 g) Tuscan kale (cavolo nero), trimmed of thick ribs — any kale may be substituted
  • 1 large (1.5 oz, 35 g) shallot, diced
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • nutmeg
  • 1 large egg
  • butter
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • Mom’s Pasta Dough — recipe HERE — rested 30 minutes before use

Directions

for the filling

  1. Heat equal parts butter and olive oil (no more than 3 tbsp total) in a deep frying pan over med-high heat. Once hot, add the shallot and sauté until translucent – about 3 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, roughly chop the cleaned & trimmed kale leaves before placing them in the pan with the shallots. Season lightly with salt & pepper and sauté until wilted.
  3. Allow to cool and drain as much liquid as possible from the cooked kale before placing it in a clean kitchen towel. Wring out as much liquid as possible. Set aside.
  4. In the same frying pan, melt another 2 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add the chicken gizzards, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until fully cooked – about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  5. Once cooled, place the cooked gizzards into a food processor and process until well ground.
  6. To the chopped gizzards in the food processor, add the cooked kale, ricotta cheese, Pecorino Romano cheese, egg, nutmeg to taste, and season lightly with salt & pepper. Process until smooth. This is critical.
  7. Remove and refrigerate several hours or overnight so that the flavors will blend.

for the agnolotti del plin – also detailed in the slideshow that follows

  • Using a jumbo egg-sized piece of dough, pass it through pasta rollers until thin. My rollers are at the widest setting at “0” and I roll the dough up to and including the no. “7” setting.
  1. Place the dough strip on a lightly floured work service, trimming both ends to make an elongated rectangle.
  2. Fill a pastry bag with the filling and pipe a line of filling about an inch from the dough strip’s edge.
  3. Use a water bottle to mist — or a pastry brush to lightly moisten — the dough on the side of the filling farthest from you. Do not get it too wet or it may split during subsequent steps.
  4. Carefully take hold of the dough’s edge and pull it over the piped filling.
  5. Use your fingers to press/seal the flap to the moistened dough, eliminating as much air as possible as you work you way down the strip.
  6. Use a pastry brush to moisten the top of the seal. – optional (sea Notes)
  7. Gently fold the filling roll over the moistened flap – optional
  8. Use your index fingers and thumbs to pinch the filling roll at inch intervals.
  9. Use a pastry wheel or very sharp knife to first trim away the excess dough
  10. Use the same tool to cut the agnolotti at the center of each pinch.
  11. Place the agnolotti in a single layer on a baking sheet that has been dusted with corn meal. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. If they are to be cooked relatively quickly, nothing further needs to be done. If they are to be cooked in a couple of hours, they should be placed in the fridge until dinner time. If the are to be cooked later than that evening, place  the baking sheet in the freezer and,once frozen, place the agnolotti in bags or some other container suitable for freezing.

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Serving Suggestion

I really hadn’t thought this all the way through and was caught scrambling for a sauce once the agnolotti were made. I turned to an old favorite that, as luck would have it, helped me to continue to clean out my fridge before leaving for Michigan.

  1. Bring to a boil a large pot of salted water over high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, in a deep fry pan, melt a few tbsp of butter over medium heat. Add about twice as much heavy cream and heat until the butter is melted. Add enough Pecorino Romano cheese to thicken the cream mixture. Add an amount of plain, meatless tomato sauce equal to the amount of cream added earlier. Stir and keep hot until the agnolotti are cooked. If the sauce thickens too much, add a bit of the  pasta water to thin it. Taste and adjust seasoning as required.
  3. Once the water is boiling rapidly, add the agnolotti and stir. When the water returns to the boil, lower the heat and gently cook the agnolotti.
    • If the agnolotti are fresh or refrigerated, they are fully cooked when all of them float to the surface of the pot of water — just a few minutes.
    • If the agnolotti are frozen, they will take a few minutes longer.
  4. If in doubt whether your pasta is fully cooked, sample one.
  5. Once cooked to your satisfaction, use a spider strainer to remove the agnolotti from the boiling water and add them to the simmering sauce.
  6.  Gently stir to coat the pasta with the sauce and serve immediately, garnished with more grated Pecorino Romano cheese and, fresh parsley and/or basil, if desired.

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Agnolotti Served 2*     *     *

Notes

YouTube contains quite a few videos showing agnolotti del plin being made. Some folded the filling roll over a moistened flap, as I did in steps 6 and 7 above. I thought that would ensure the pasta was fully sealed. I also skipped those 2 steps with a subsequent dough strip. Later, I cooked them both, fresh and frozen, and neither opened up while being boiled. In short, it made no difference whether you folded the filling roll over the sealed flap. You can follow the method you feel most comfortable doing.

Make sure the gizzards are fully cooked. “Rare” gizzards are not a good thing.

Because the filling is to be piped, it must be ground in a food processor, or similar device, until very smooth. The filling may block the piping bag’s tip if not ground fully.

When making the tomato-cream sauce, if you haven’t any tomato sauce on hand, a couple tbsp of tomato paste may be substituted.

The tomato-cream sauce used to dress these agnolotti is simple to make and can be used for a number of stuffed pastas. I often season it with a bit of nutmeg but, this time, the agnolotti filling already was seasoned with the spice and I didn’t want to over do it. A little nutmeg goes a very long way.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

calamari-salad3Continuing with a review of seafood dishes suitable for A Christmas Eve feast, today’s I’m highlighting Mom’s Calamari Salad. It’s a snap to make and is a welcome addition to any celebratory meal, Christmas or otherwise. Another reason for selecting this dish is that its post contains links to a number of seafood dishes and recipes, in case your Feast of the Seven Fishes is minus a few fins. All of this may be yours simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Garbanzo Bean SoupMy Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup

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Honey, Mustard!

The year’s last visit with Zia went very well, though I doubt I’ll ever drive North again when there’s a Polar Vortex rolling South. Once there, we cooked up a storm and 4 of those dishes will make their way on to this blog over the next few weeks. My Cousin, also, came up for a few days and he and Max were off roaming the countryside. With deer season just starting, however, the sound of distant rifle fire kept them both closer to home than normal. I do think he minded more than the dog. Max just wants to be at my Cousin’s side, no matter where that happens to be. Me jealous? Nah! It’s good to “pass the baton” every now and again, giving Zia and me time to make our pasta in peace.

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Honey Mustard 3

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With November now behind us, Christmas will be here before we know it. Today’s recipe is a perennial favorite of my Christmas gift baskets. (They’re bags actually because I can never find gift baskets.) But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Some 3 years ago, I began making ketchup following a recipe on Tanya’s fantastic blog, Chica Andaluza. About the same time, I made Guinness-based whole grain mustard from a recipe I found on Mandy’s wonderful blog, The Complete Cookbook. I honestly cannot recall which came first, the Chica or the keg, but that Christmas my friends and family got a jar of each in their “baskets” — well, almost.

I’ve friends and family members who follow gluten and alcohol-free diets. A mustard made with Guinness just wouldn’t do and so began my experiments with making honey mustard. Today’s recipe is the latest incarnation and is easy to prepare. It’s easily modified if you’d prefer it more or less spicy (see Notes), or, if there’s a particular flavoring you’d wish to include. Before we get to the recipe, however, there are a few things you need to know.

Though there are over 3 dozen types of mustard seeds, yellow and black/brown seeds are most readily available in these parts. Of the 2, yellow mustard seeds have the more mild flavoring. Keep this in mind when you prepare mustard at home. The hotter the mustard, the more brown/black seeds you’ll need to add to the mix. No matter which type of mustard seed you use, though, all will become milder if exposed to heat. That’s why today’s recipe is not processed in a boiling water bath for canning purposes. Just remember to keep it cold if you want it hot. Be advised, too, that this recipe also relies on oil as an ingredient. Canning when oil is being used is, at best, a risky endeavor. Be sure to check with a far more authoritative source than this blog before attempting to preserve this recipe’s mustard.

Because this mustard is not processed, it must be kept refrigerated at all times. Be sure, also, to use jars, lids, and utensils that have been cleaned and, when possible, sterilized before use. The object is to reduce as much as possible the risk of contamination. Do so and your mustard will last for 6 months in your fridge. In fact, I just finished the last of a batch I made for Christmas last year.

Mustard seeds are surprisingly tough little devils. Soaking them before use softens their husks, making them easier to grind. A couple of years ago, in my rush to get the gift baskets made, I ruined my food processor and then broke a part on my blender when I tried to grind mustard seeds that weren’t fully soaked. A word to the wise …

Though I prefer my mustard to be on the grainy side, you can make your mustard as smooth as you like. Be sure to keep an eye on your blender or food processor, however, if you’re making super-smooth mustard. Some models may overheat (see above) and you should give it a rest if the machine’s body feels too warm to the touch.

Lastly, once prepared, stick your mustard in the fridge and forget about it for at least 2 weeks before using, though I wait a full month. This is to allow the flavors to blend and the mustard to mellow. Taste it beforehand and you’re sure to be surprised by its bitterness.

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Honey Mustard 2*     *     *

Honey Mustard Recipe

yield: approx 7¾ cups (1830 ml)

Ingredients

  • 200 g black mustard seeds
  • 250 g yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup tarragon vinegar — leaves, if any, removed (See Notes)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup honey
  • 6 cloves garlic – roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup grated ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 15 tbsp olive oil

Directions

  1. Place mustard seeds and vinegar into a large container, cover, and set aside at least 8 hours or overnight — the longer the better. If need be, add more vinegar or water by the quarter cupful, to make sure none of the seeds remain dry.
  2. Place the now-soaked seeds, along with all the remaining ingredients, into the bowl of a food processor or blender.
  3. Process/grind the ingredients until fully combined and the mustard is the consistency you prefer. Remember to check the machine’s housing for signs of over-heating.
  4. When ground to your liking, place the mustard in clean, sterilized jars and refrigerate at least 2 weeks before using.

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Honey Mustard 1*     *     *

Notes

This recipe will yield a relatively mild mustard. For a spicier condiment, go to a well-stocked Asian market and look for Chinese mustard seeds. These are a little bit darker and smaller than our “normal” yellow seeds but do they ever pack a punch and will definitely add some heat to your condiment.

If it’s too late to add more brown/black or Chinese mustard seeds, you can make your mustard spicier by adding red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper powder, or your preferred hot sauce.

Avoid using fresh herbs and/or fresh chilies when making this mustard. They could be a source for contamination and the mustard’s shelf-life could be affected.

If you cannot find tarragon vinegar, feel free to substitute whatever type of vinegar you prefer, flavored or not.

You can use this mustard to easily make a mustard dipping sauce. Just add a few tbsp of mustard to about twice as much mayo — more or less to taste — and stir well. Season with salt, add as much honey as you prefer, and, if you like your dipping sauce spicy, add a touch of cayenne pepper or hot sauce. Refrigerate until ready for use.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Baccalà PreviewThose who have followed this blog for some time know that many Italians follow the custom of serving seafood for their primary meal on Christmas Eve. To that end. I’ve shared a number of seafood recipes that family members have served for that special meal. Today’s look back features a recipe that was prepared every year “Upstairs”, in Zia’s home. Stewed in a rich tomato sauce, the aroma of salted cod, baccalà, being served was sure to draw me to their table like a moth to a flame. You can learn all about the preparation of baccalà simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Agnolotti del Plin Preview Agnolotti del Plin 

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Mom’s Osso Buco

Osso Buco della Mamma

Ossobuco 1

Finalmente! It was almost one year ago when I prepared osso buco for Zia and promised you that I would soon post the recipe. Well, that was the plan.

As I mentioned last week, Mom didn’t leave us a cookbook but we do have a couple of notebooks in which her recipes can be found, in varying states of completion. The osso buco I prepared for Zia was based on a recipe that I found which was little more than a few notes. We enjoyed the dinner and, when I got home, I set about writing the recipe. That’s when I found it, Mom’s full recipe. She had written notes in one book and the full recipe in another. I had taken one version with me to Michigan and referred to the other when I began writing the recipe. The post was put on hold until I could prepare Mom’s actual recipe. The Visitation would prove the perfect opportunity to both prepare Mom’s recipe and celebrate Zia’s return to Chicago.

I’m fully aware that some may object to eating veal, for a variety of reasons. I myself cringe when, while traveling through Michigan, I see the tiny enclosures used to raise calves for veal. Today there are alternatives. A quick check with Google will provide you with the names of local farms that raise veal humanely and the stores that carry their product. Be forewarned, however, that your peace of mind won’t come cheaply. A much less expensive alternative is to substitute beef shanks for the veal. In fact, that’s what I did when I tested both versions of Mom’s recipe, and, what I do when I’ve a taste for osso buco but don’t wish to take out a loan to satisfy it.

There are few differences between Mom’s original recipe and what I’ve prepared here, and those involve my use of a slow cooker. Braising shanks in an oven requires more liquid than doing so in a slow cooker. The recipe reflects this. Additionally, as you’ll soon see, Mom cooked 4 shanks at a time. I only cooked 2, though I kept most ingredient amounts the same. This meant that I had quite a bit of extra sauce left over. See below to learn how we used that sauce.

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Ossobuco 1

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Osso Buco Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 veal shanks (See Notes)
  • salt and pepper
  • flour
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (See Notes)
  •  1/2 cup veal stock – chicken may be substituted
  • 1 large can (28 oz, 794 g) whole tomatoes, torn/crushed by hand

for the Gremolata

  • 2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped — anchovy paste may be substituted
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • zest of 1 lemon

Directions

  1. Season the shanks with salt & pepper on both sides. Begin to heat some oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
  2. Place about 1/3 cup of flour into a plastic bag, followed by 2 of the shanks. Carefully shake to coat the shanks with flour. Place the shanks in the now hot oil and repeat with the remaining 2 flanks.
  3. Cook the shanks until both sides are well-browned, – about 7 or 8 minutes total. Remove and reserve.
  4. Meanwhile, add the onions, garlic, carrots, celery, tomatoes, tomato paste, and bay leaf to the slow cooker. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Stir until combined.
  5. Use the white wine to deglaze the frying pan and pour the liquid into the slow cooker when finished.
  6. Add the shanks to the slow cooker. Be sure to include any of the juices that may have collected on the plate.
  7. Add enough stock so that the sauce comes halfway up the sides of the shanks.
  8. Set the slow cooker to  “LOW” and cook for 8 hours. To speed up the cooking time, for every hour cooked on “HIGH” reduce the cooking time by 2 hours.
  9. About every hour, baste the top of the shanks to keep them moist. (See Notes)
  10. Make the gremolata towards the end of the cooking process:
    • In a small bowl, combine the anchovies, garlic, parsley, and zest. Stir until fully combined.
  11. Carefully remove the shanks and serve immediately with sauce and garnished with a sprinkling of gremolata.

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Ossobuco 3

Osso buco served with polenta and broccolini 

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Notes

I’ve slightly adjusted Mom’s recipe to reflect braising these shanks in a slow cooker and not the oven. If using the oven:

  • Preheat the oven to 350˚ F  (175˚ C).
  • Increase the amount of liquids use 2/3 cups dry white wine and 3/4 cups stock.
  • Cook for 1½ to 2 hours.  Meat should be fork tender and just about falling off the bone. Let it go too long and it will fall of the bone, ruining your presentation.

Although you can get shanks as thin as an inch, 2 inch thick shanks were used here. Cooking times may vary if you use shanks that vary in thickness.

Ask your butcher to tie the shanks to prevent them from falling apart during the braise. Be sure to remove the string before serving.

Attempting to turn the shanks over while braising is very problematic. They may, in fact, fall apart during the process. Best to leave them as-is and baste them periodically throughout the braise. If braising in the oven, baste the shanks every 30 minutes or so, If using a slow-cooker, baste every hour or so. Remember, the fewer times you uncover a slow cooker, the better.

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It’s that time again

Winter is fast approaching and I’m going to sneak in one last visit with Zia before it gets here. The Kitchens will be closed while I’m gone.

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About that extra sauce

Tagliatelle in Sauce

After our dinner, the leftover sauce was split in half. Zia’s portion went into the freezer and went home with her. My portion was later used to dress the homemade tagliatelle pictured above.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Stovetop Root Vegetables

Last weekend saw this area’s farmers markets close for the year, reflecting the fact that very little, if anything, will be grown here for the next 6 months. This doesn’t mean, however, that all locally grown produce has disappeared and no longer available. Because of their relatively long shelf-life, our markets will still carry apples, squash and a variety of root vegetables for weeks, even months, to come. Today’s look back features a stove top method for braising root vegetables, a recipe that will make an attractive side dish for any of the feasts you may prepare this holiday season. You can learn all about it by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Honey Mustard Preview

  Honey Mustard

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Penne with Vodka-Cream Sauce

Pennette alla Vodka

Penne Vodka Cream 2

Note: This post was inadvertently posted earlier than I had planned. The”Crostata” recipe, which was scheduled for Wednesday, will be delayed until next week. Thanks for your understanding.

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I really cannot recall just when I started making this dish. I do know it was around the time I moved here, to my current home, about 13 or 14 years ago. Being that I was tending bar at the time, in retrospect, finding another means of consuming alcohol of any kind doesn’t seem like the best of ideas. Still, regardless of when or why I started making this tomato sauce, it remains a favorite of mine, both for its simplicity and great taste.

Basically, this is nothing more than a tomato sauce laced with cream and vodka. It really is that simple. Over the years, what began as a meatless dish has evolved and I now make it using prosciutto, although I have been known to serve it using ham, pancetta or even shrimp.  You can pretty much use whatever protein you want and about the only thing you cannot skip is the vodka. Do that and all you’ve got is a marinara sauce with some cream added to it — not that there’s anything wrong with that. As for the brand of vodka to use, I opt for a higher quality brand, often “tasting” it first, in my kitchen, just to make sure that I’ve chosen wisely. Higher quality, however, doesn’t mean top shelf and I certainly will not be cooking with the highest quality vodka available. My basic rule of thumb is that if it’s good enough for my martini, it’s good enough for my pasta.

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These are a few of my Favorite Things

These are a few of my Favorite Things

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Penne with Vodka-Cream Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 – 1/3 lb. chopped prosciutto, cooked ham, or pancetta (optional for vegetarians)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, (optional)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup vodka
  • 1 large (28 oz.) can tomatoes, diced or crushed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb penne pasta
  • reserved pasta water
  • grated pecorino romano cheese

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over med-low heat.
  2. Add pork product and slowly render the fat. Do not cook until crisp.
  3. Increase heat to med-high. Add butter, then onion, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. If needed, add some olive oil.
  4. Season with salt & pepper, add the garlic, and continue sautéing for another minute
  5. Remove pan from heat, add vodka, stir to combine, return to heat. Have a pan lid nearby to smother the flame should the vodka ignite. Allow to reduce for about 3 minutes.
  6. Add tomatoes, cream, parsley, season with salt and pepper, stir thoroughly, bring to a boil, and reduce to a low simmer.
  7. After sauce has simmered for 20 minutes, begin heating a large pot of salted water in which to cook the penne. Cook the pasta per package directions, cooking until about 2 minutes before al dente.
  8. Reserve a cup of the pasta water, strain the penne, and add the pasta to the tomato sauce.
  9. Continue cooking the combined pasta and sauce until the pasta is done to your liking. Add some of the reserved pasta water to the pan if the pasta becomes dry during this last step of the cooking process.
  10. Just before serving, add the basil, mix well, and garnish the serving platter with grated pecorino romano cheese.
  11. Serve immediately.

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Penne Vodka Cream 1

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Variations

One needn’t use meat to make this dish and a pound of large shrimp, cut in half, is a worthy substitute. If you do use shrimp, however, add them to the sauce just before you add the pasta. The shrimp only need a couple of minutes to cook, during which the pasta should finish cooking. Remember: no cheese!

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Coming soon to a monitor near you … Just not as soon as you thought it would

Crostata Preview

Crostata

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Black Rice Risotto with Roast Duck and Porcini Mushrooms

Risotto Venere con Anatra Arrosto e Funghi Porcini

Roast Duck Risotto 3This is the second and last post using leftovers from the duck that Zia and I roasted and that I blogged about in early September. Last week was the first when I shared our recipe for duck ravioli. Today’s post resulted from a dinner I served Zia during The Visitation and, in doing so, we used the very last of that duck, save for the quack.

To start, make a stock by placing the roasted duck carcass in a large pot of cold water after removing and reserving any pieces of meat that may still cling to the bones. Into the same pot, add a large quartered onion, 2 roughly chopped celery stalks, 2 roughly chopped carrots, a few sprigs of parsley, and a quartered tomato. No need to season the stock for the carcass is already seasoned. Bring the pot to a boil before reducing to a simmer. After 2 hours, strain the stock and use it in today’s risotto.

Now, I’ve already shared 4 risotto recipes (Bartolini, Turkey, Strawberry, and Tricolor risotti) so there’s really no need to go into great detail here. There are, however, a few things to note with this particular recipe.

There are two kinds of Italian black rice, riso venere. Both are a medium grain rice, one of which is made by dyeing Arborio rice with squid ink. The other — the one that was used in today’s recipe — was developed by crossing the storied Asian Forbidden Rice with an Italian variety. This is a whole grain and, much like brown rice, takes a bit longer to cook than, say, Arborio, for example. In fact, it could easily take an hour to prepare today’s risotto. This means that you will need more stock to cook the rice. In the past, I’ve suggested using a 3 to 1 ratio — meaning 3 parts stock to every part rice — plus an additional cup of stock for good measure. Because of the increased cooking time required for this particular rice, you may need a much as double my original suggestion. Though that may seem excessive, remember that you can always use any leftover stock in any number of ways. (See Notes for a way to cut down on the cooking time and, therefore, the amount of stock required.)

In this recipe, I used dried porcini mushrooms. (I’ve yet to find fresh ones here but the search continues.) To hydrate them, place the dried mushrooms in a bowl and add very hot water. I tend to avoid using boiling water, as some might suggest, for fear that it may partially cook the mushrooms. After 20 to 30 minutes, carefully remove the now plump mushrooms and coarsely chop them for use in the recipe. Take the leftover water and add it to the heated duck stock, being careful to leave behind any of the grit that may remain in the bottom of the bowl. The stock will now be both duck and mushroom-flavored.

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Riso Venere*     *     *

To prepare the risotto, in a medium sauce pan, melt a couple tbsp of butter over med-high heat. Add some finely chopped shallots and sauté until soft. Add some minced/grated garlic and continue cooking for about a minute before adding the reserved duck meat and the chopped reconstituted porcini mushrooms. Sauté for a few more minutes and then add the rice. Cook the rice, stirring frequently, until the grains are toasted — about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add about a half-cup of dry white wine, stir, and cook until almost all the liquid is absorbed. Repeat the process with the heated duck stock (See Notes), adding more liquid, stirring, and allowing it to be absorbed before adding another ladle or two more. Once the rice is cooked just about to your preference, add another ladle of stock, cover, turn off the heat, and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Next, remove the cover, add 2 tbsp of butter, if desired, and about 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano. Stir well and serve immediately, garnished with more grated cheese.

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Duck Risotto 2*     *     *

Notes

Black rice should be rinsed before use to remove any inedible bits — pebbles, sticks, and the like. If you wish to lower the cooking time, the rice may be soaked before cooking. The longer it is soaked, the less time will be needed to cook it. Though I’ve never done this, I did see where some have soaked it as long as overnight.

Always use heated stock when making this or any risotto. Using cool or even warmed stock will greatly increase the cooking time. On the other hand, do not use stock that is boiling. Stock that is too hot will evaporate when it hits the rice-filled pan before it can be absorbed by the grains.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Duck SoupThis isn’t so much a look back as it is a footnote to the 3 duck-related posts. In the past, I’ve suggested that you use leftover scraps of pasta dough to make quadretti. (Remember: waste not.) That’s what I did when I made last week’s duck ravioli and, with a cup of today’s duck stock, I enjoyed a delicious bowl of duck soup for that day’s lunch, all the while contemplating the challenges faced by the country of Fredonia.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Roast Goat PreviewBartolini Roast Goat

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Roast Duck Ravioli

Ravioli dell’Anatra di Arrosto

Duck Ravioli 2She came. She saw. She conquered.

The Visitation ended, far too quickly, and Zia is back in Michigan. While here, we met with family and friends, both near and far, new and old. We toured my favorite Italian and farmers markets and we dined out a couple of times, including our customary Friday night fish fry. This being Chicago, however, this fish fry took place at a sushi restaurant. Of course, I did cook and some of the recipes will make their way to this blog. All the while, incredibly, we were graced with some of the year’s best weather. All in all, it was a wonderful visit and I hope to import her again next year. Fingers crossed.

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The making of ravioli has roots that go as far back as the 14th century in the North of the Italian peninsula and perhaps even earlier in Sicily. (Source: Wikipedia). Their creation involves a couple of axioms I’ve said many times before: nothing is wasted in a traditional Italian kitchen, and, meat was a dish reserved for holidays and special occasions. Well, when meat was served — and with no means of refrigeration — leftovers were a problem. Let’s face it: re-heating a piece of roast over a hearth isn’t necessarily the most appetizing means of dealing with leftovers. On the other hand, finely chopping the meat before adding it to, perhaps, a little cheese and some greens, and using the mixture to fill pasta “pockets” would make quite a tasty alternative. Not only that but a little bit of leftover meat would go a long way, far enough to feed the entire family.

This was certainly the case when Zia and I were left with some roasted duck after our meal. We discussed how to use the leftovers and decided that making ravioli was the best way to go. I think we were pretty successful, as does my Zia. In fact, when we roasted a goat shoulder during my next visit, Zia set about making ravioli filling with the leftovers, as well. Frozen, it awaits my return so that we can make “goat” ravioli. The recipes for both the roast goat and the subsequent ravioli filling will be published soon.

There is nothing complicated about our duck ravioli recipe, though the use of broccoli raab, rapini, requires a bit of blanching. How long depends upon your taste and whether you are fond of bitter greens. Blanching will remove some of the bitterness, as well as soften the vegetable’s “woody” stalks. Since we both do not mind rapini’s bitterness, we kept the blanching to a minimum. You, on the other hand, may wish to blanch the vegetable for a few minutes more and, therefore, boil away more of its bitter flavor.

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Duck Ravioli Filling*     *     *

Roast Duck Ravioli Filling Recipe

Ingredients

  • 9 oz (250 g) skinless roast duck, shredded (See Notes)
  • 10 oz (280 g) rapini (broccoli raab)
  • 2 large red onions, sliced
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • Marsala wine
  • 1 cup ricotta, drained
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • 1 large egg
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Melt butter in a large fry pan over medium heat. Add onions and stir to coat with the butter.
  2. Sauté for about 10 minutes, season lightly with salt and pepper, lower to med-low heat, and continue to cook, stirring frequently.  You want the onions to brown but not burn. It may take from 30 minutes to an hour to be fully caramelized. Add a little bit of olive oil if the onions are too dry.
  3. Just before the onions are ready, deglaze the pan with a couple ounces of Marsala wine. The onions will be ready when the wine has evaporated.
  4. Once the onions have cooled, drain any excess liquids before placing them in a clean kitchen towel, wringing out as much moisture as possible.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to the boil.
  6. Add the rapini and, once the boil returns, blanch the rapini for 5 minutes.
  7. Remove the rapini from the boiling water and immediately place the vegetable into an ice water bath.
  8. Once fully cooled, drain the rapini of as much liquid as possible before wringing in a clean kitchen towel.
  9. Use a meat grinder — or food processor — to grind the duck, caramelized onions, and blanched rapini.
  10. Add the Pecorino Romano and ricotta cheeses to the mince and stir well.
  11. Taste to check for seasoning before adding the egg. Stir till well-combined, cover, and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
  12. The filing is now ready to be used to make ravioli.

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Duck Ravioli 1*     *     *

Notes

For step-by-step instructions for making ravioli using dies/molds, please check out my previous post for Ravioli dei Bartolini.

Here’s Mom’s Pasta Dough recipe, for those who need one. In this case, I substituted 3 duck eggs for the 4 large chicken eggs.

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Serving suggestion

Dress ravioli with brown butter-sage sauce to which grated Pecorino Romano cheese has been added. Garnish with sage leaves that have been shallow-fried until crisp in olive oil. (See opening photo.)

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Ravioli Day

With today’s post dealing with a new edition to the Bartolini ravioli recipe collection, I thought a look back to the granddaddy of them all, the original Bartolini ravioli filling recipe, was in order. It’s still our favorite and the mere mention of it will cause any Bartolini clan member’s mouth to water, as his/her mind fills with memories of holidays past. You can learn all about it simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Roast Duck Risotto PreviewBlack Rice Risotto with Roast Duck and Porcini Mushrooms

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Roast Duck and a Sordid Act Revealed

Anatra Arrosto

As much as I’ve grown to love duck in my adult life, it certainly wasn’t a part of our diet when I was young. In fact, the only memory I have of duck being served took place 40 to 45 years ago and isn’t so much about the duck but the surrounding circumstances. I’m afraid Zia is not who you think she is.

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Roast Duck *     *     *

When I was very young, frozen foods were just becoming widely available. By the time I was in high school, my Parents had bought a rather large chest freezer, placed it in the basement of the old two-flat, and both families took advantage. After all, it was far larger and the temperature much more consistent than Grandpa’s window box that he would install every Winter. Not only that, but having a freezer meant that Mom and Zia no longer had to rise before dawn on the holidays to make ravioli for the big dinner. Holidays would never be the same for the two Sisters.

By the time the freezer was being filled, my siblings and I were older and occasionally there’d be a night when none of the 3 of us were home for dinner. With Dad working at the restaurant, that meant that Mom ate alone. On one such night, Zia invited Mom to join them for dinner. She had roasted a duck! Mom gratefully accepted and everyone seated at the table commented how delicious the duck was. At some point, Mom asked her Sister what possessed her to roast a duck in mid-week. Was she celebrating something? No, Zia had been looking in the freezer that morning for dinner ideas, saw the duck, and decided to roast it. That’s when Mom realized that Zia, that dear sweet woman you’ve all grown to love, was a duck thief. She had stolen Mom’s duck!!!

Now, we have kept her criminal past secret, within the family, but it’s time to air the Bartolini dirty linen. Besides, as far as crimes go, this one was victimless — save for the duck — and to her credit, Zia did share her ill-gotten gains with the duck’s true owner. Mustn’t forget, too, that by all accounts, it was delicious. That’s important because, to my knowledge, it was the last time that duck was served at the two-flat. Mention roast duck today and, with a smile, Zia will recount the story of the day she became a duck thief.

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I truly enjoy cooking these dishes with Zia. This one really hasn’t been prepared in over 40 years and, even then, it was a rarity. As such, it would be so unfair of me to expect her to remember the recipe, especially since I cannot remember what I was doing 40 minutes ago, let alone 40 years. So, we collaborate and, while doing so, she tells me tales from back in the day, like how she became a thief. It’s a fun afternoon followed by a great dinner. You just can’t top that.

I think you’ll find that there’s nothing complicated about this recipe and, if you’ve been around here for a while, the herbs we used should come as no surprise. As I’ve said before, neither Mom nor Zia used many herbs and spices in their cooking. What few they did have were usually reserved for baking. You will, also, note that there was no sauce/gravy to accompany our duck. This was how my family served it. The duck was plenty moist and very flavorful, so, we went with tradition — and I spirited away the duck fat to play with at some later date.

Speaking of later, this duck will be resurrected in future posts. Stay tuned …

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Roast Duck 5

Let the roasting begin!

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Roast Duck Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 duck, approx 6 lbs, rinsed and dried, neck and giblets removed
  • Fresh thyme, rosemary, and sage leaves, chopped, 3 tbsp total
  • A few sprigs of thyme and rosemary, with a few whole sage leaves
  • 1/2 onion, cut into 4ths
  • 1/2 lemon, cut into 4ths
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/2 lemon zest, garnish
  • Salt & pepper
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350˚ F (175˚ C)
  2. Season duck’s cavities with salt and pepper.
  3. Place one garlic clove in the neck cavity and the remaining garlic, onion, and lemon into the abdominal cavity, along with the sage leaves and sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Use kitchen twine to tie the legs. Fold the wing tips under the duck’s back.
  4. Use a skewer or similarity pointed object to pierce the duck breasts a repeatedly. (See Notes) Coat lightly with olive oil and lightly season the breast side of the duck with salt and pepper.
  5. Place the duck on the roasting rack, breast side down.
  6. Coat lightly with olive oil and liberally season the back with salt, pepper, and 1/3 of the chopped herbs.
  7. Place in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, turn duck so it is now breast-side up, season with remaining herbs, and return to oven.
  8. Bake for 90 minutes, basting every 30 minutes.
  9. After final basting, raise oven temp to 375˚ F (190˚ C) for another 30 minutes to crisp the skin.
  10. Let rest for 20 minutes before carving.

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Roast Duck 2*     *     *

Notes

Piercing the duck breasts will allow more fat to drain during initial phase of roasting.

Generally speaking, roast the duck for 25 minutes per pound at 350 F (180 C).

We roasted potatoes along with our duck. When the duck was removed to be flipped over, we reserved a couple tbsp of duck fat and a little of the chopped herbs. Once the potatoes were washed and dried, we seasoned them with the reserved herbs, salt & pepper, and duck fat. At the 2nd basting, with another hour of roasting yet to go, place the now seasoned potatoes on the roasting rack. Baste them along with the duck and roast until the duck has finished cooking.

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Terrace View

“I just adore a terrace view … “

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Che Bella Roma!

My Italian holiday came to an end in the Eternal City, Rome. There is, quite literally, no place like it on earth. Where most cities exalt their histories, Rome’s past is there, right before your eyes. The Colosseum, Pantheon, Palatine Hill, the Forum, the list goes on and on. If you’ve any interest at all in the Roman Empire, Rome must have a place on your bucket list.

But what if you couldn’t care less about the ancient Romans? Perhaps fine art is more your thing. Then head to Vatican City and get in line to see the Papal art galleries. Words cannot describe the sheer size of the collections. Following the marked route, you’ll pass through gallery after gallery of works painted by the World’s masters. Be sure to look up occasionally as you walk, for the ceilings along the route are incredibly beautiful.  You’ll probably peer into galleries featuring statuary from early Greek and Roman times, as you pass on your way to the Sistine Chapel. With walls painted by some of the Renaissance’s finest artists, Michelangelo created the fresco that adorns its ceiling and front wall. The ceiling depicts various scenes form the Book of Genesis, as well as some notable biblical figures, while the Chapel’s front wall contains Michelangelo’s masterwork, The Last Judgment. Guaranteed that no matter how much time you set aside to tour the Vatican, you’ll wish you had more.

The Vatican isn’t the only place where you can find art. Head to the Church of St. Peter in Chains, San Pietro in Vincoli, where you’ll find Michelangelo’s marble sculpture, Moses. Of course, you could go to the Church of Saint Mary of the People, Santa Maria del Popolo, to see Caravaggio’s Martrydom of St. Peter, as well as his Conversion of St. Paul. Take a moment to view the Chigi Chapel which was created by Raphael and that contains statues sculpted by Bernini. If it’s Caravaggio you want, then you really must walk over to the Church of Saint Louis of the French, San Luigi dei Francesi. Beautiful in it’s own right, to the left of the alter is the Contarelli Chapel containing masterworks by Caravaggio, depicting three events in the life of St. Matthew: The Calling of Saint Matthew; The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, and The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew. Like so much of Rome, this little cappella will leave you breathless.

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(Click to enlarge any/all photos)

  Next, and last, is the heart of ancient Rome, the Forum, and its neighbor, the Colosseum.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Zucchini Penne PastaWith our gardens and markets still brimming with zucchini, both yellow and green, today’s look back features a pasta dish that isn’t quite as it appears. Containing zucchini that’s been cleverly chopped to look like penne, this is one way to enjoy pasta with only half — or less — of the carbs. Did I mention how tasty it is?  You can see the recipe by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Cherry_Choc_Oats_Cookie“C” is for Cookie

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A Souvenir from Florence: Fried Sage

Salvia Fritti

Fried Sage 2I’m usually not one to bring home many souvenirs from my trips abroad. There were exceptions, of course, but these days I’m more prone to bring home recipes or ideas for enhancing my own. Last week’s garganelli post was one such souvenir. This past trip was no exception.

Just like here now, Italy was at the end of the Spring pea season when we arrived. Still, though, I was served a number of dishes in which fresh peas were an ingredient. Whereas I cook peas fully whenever I add them to pasta, these were served relatively al dente. The result was a much fresher tasting pea, giving the pasta that Primavera flavor. Since returning home, I’ve been buying fresh peas every week and doing little more than heating them before serving. Try it next time you make pasta with peas and let me know what you think.

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On our first night together in Florence, we went to a nearby restaurant for dinner. The menu offered an antipasto called “Salvia Fritti”. We knew that it was fried sage but that didn’t seem like anything special. After all, we’ve all used fried sage leaves for a garnish. When asked, the waiter explained that the sage leaves were used to enclose anchovies before being dipped in batter and fried. Get outta here! I immediately placed my order, as did my fellow anchovy lover sitting across from me. His wife chose something else; a decision she would soon regret.

This dish was just incredible. It was so good that the next night, when we discovered our preferred restaurant was unexpectedly closed, we high-tailed it over to the previous night’s restaurant to enjoy another round of fried sage.

Salvia Fritti

The restaurant version

Happy to get a table and eager to taste these delightful treats, we could hardly wait to place 3 orders for Salvia Fritii. That’s when it happened. Our waiter told us that they had just served the last of the tasty delicacies. The 3 of us gasped so loudly that the restaurant’s other diners must have thought we had just received terrible news. Well, in fact we had. To be sure, we enjoyed our dinner but, all the while, we knew that we wouldn’t be served salvia fritti again during our holiday. That’s when I decided to make them at home. So, I asked the waiter how they were made and, this trip, along with a change in my pea cooking ways, I brought home today’s recipe for fried sage.

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This is such an easy recipe that It’s hardly worth its own post and if it weren’t for the photos I’ll be sharing, I would have combined this dish with another. You see, to make this dish, all you need do is place some anchovies between 2 sage leaves and coat them with batter before deep frying until golden brown. The only thing to consider is the thickness of the batter. As you can see in the photo, we were served sage that was coated with a thick batter. My batter, however, was a bit thinner and, therefore, crisper after frying. The choice is yours. If you’re unsure, start with a thicker batter, fry a couple, sample, and then adjust with more sparkling water, if needed. Don’t worry about the sampling. Just like when cooking bacon, sampling is to be expected.

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Fried Sage 1*     *     *

Fried Sage Recipe

Ingredients

  • Large fresh sage leaves
  • anchovies (see Notes)
  • 3/4 cup AP flour
  • 1/4 corn starch (see Notes)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • sparkling/carbonated water
  • olive oil or a substitute for frying

Directions

  1. Prepare the batter:
    • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, and salt.
    • Add the egg and then the water, whisking until a smooth batter results.
    • Set aside until needed.
  2. Pre-heat frying oil to 350˚ F (180˚ C).
  3. Pair the sage leaves according to size.
  4. Place anchovy fillet(s) in-between the 2 paired leaves. Use the palm of your hand to press the leaves together.
  5. Dip the sage “packets” into the batter and gently shake off the excess before placing in the hot oil. Repeat for the other packets though be careful not to overcrowd the pan.
  6. Fry until golden brown on both sides, turning each over once in the process.
  7. Remove from hot oil and drain on paper towels. Season lightly with salt. If working in batches, keep warm in a pre-heated 200˚ F (95˚ C) oven.
  8. Serve immediately.

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Salted AnchoviesSalt-packed anchovies, anyone?

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Notes

Anchovies are the biggest concern for this recipe. If you can find fresh, by all means use them. They will give this dish the best flavor possible. If, like me, you cannot find fresh anchovies — and believe me I’ve tried — your next best option is salt-packed anchovies. Though not the same as fresh, they are a very good second choice. Just be sure to rinse them very well before using. Whether you use fresh or salt-packed anchovies, be sure to clean them, removing the head if necessary, and to check for and remove the spine. If unable to find fresh or salt-packed anchovies, by all means use tins of anchovies packed in olive oil. The bottom line is that you really have to taste anchovies sandwiched between sage leaves, battered, and fried. It’s a simple as that.

You’ll notice I used cornstarch in my batter. I find that it makes things more crisp, Omit it if you disagree.

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What if you don’t like sage?

Fried AnchoviesWell, not very long ago, a group of us went to a restaurant owned by a winner of America’s Top Chef. While there, we were served deep-fried anchovies. Can I get a “YUM!”? That dish is recreated here, using the same batter that was used for the sage. Just batter the fillets and fry them. Be sure to make extra, though. The kitchen elves love them and tend to snack on a few during the cooking process.

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Now, on to the Republic of San Marino

After a far too brief stay in Bologna, I rented a car and drove to Rimini before turning towards the Apennines and the Republic of San Marino. Founded in 301 CE and only 24 sq mi (64 km2), San Marino lays claim to being the world’s oldest republic. {In comparison, Chicago is 228 sq mi (591 km2).} The city of San Marino is located atop Mount Titan, Monte Titano, offering beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and, to the East, Rimini and the Adriatic Coast. I truly regret losing those photos but feel very lucky that the most valuable ones, those of my family, were saved

San Marino

San Marino’s Municipalities,                             I Castelli del San Marino,                             (Source: Wikipedia)

As small as it is, the country is divided into 9 districts called castelli, castles, including the city and capital, San Marino. My Zia lives in the municipality called Domagnono and our family owned a farm in the Castello di Montegiardino. Don’t let what appears to be relatively short distances between the locales fool you. The country sits atop the Apennines and the terrain is hilly, at best. My cousins, and especially my Zia, were fearless behind the wheels of their cars, day or night. I, on the other hand, white knuckled it on the way into — or was it “up to”? — and out of — “down from”? — the Republic. (Have I mentioned my fear of heights?) They all did their best to show me all the country’s sites, as well as those places having special meaning for my family. We even managed to spend an afternoon at the beach, having dinner with my cousin and her family at their beach-front restaurant in the coastal village of Riccione, a suburb of Rimini.

Before I knew it, I was packing up the car and driving to Florence. (Unbeknownst to my family, the flat owners were already calling me for an estimated arrival time.) I did promise them all, however, that I would be returning, hopefully with a sibling or two in tow. Guaranteed, it won’t take another 40 years to do it!

Here, then, are a few of the photos from this leg of the journey. Forgive the poor quality but these are quite literally some of the only photos of the countryside that I have.

(Click to enlarge any/all photos)

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The government occupies part of the old fortress atop Monte Titano, and there’s a walk that will take you up along the old wall to the tower, giving you spectacular views of the countryside. Along with the castle, you’ll also find a church and a museum on the mountaintop, while much of the surrounding area is devoted to the tourist trade. At one time, collectors the World-over flocked to San Marino to purchase the Republic’s postage stamps. With the advent of email and social media, however, the stamp market and its tourist industry have fallen on hard times. Looking around town — and ignoring the fantastic views — there’s not much to distinguish this tourist area from dozens around the globe except for one thing: the incline. These photos do not do it justice and I cannot imagine making my way around town when the streets are snow-covered in Winter.

By the way, see those 2 beige awnings in the lower left of the photo on the right? That was once a leather goods shop that my Zia and Zio owned and operated. When they retired, the hotel bought the space and, after some renovations, it now serves as the hotel’s main entrance.

S. Marino Tourist Area*     *     *

During WW2, as the Allies worked their way up the Italian peninsula, the people of the region took refuge in the area’s railroad tunnels that had been dug through the mountains. Here is one such tunnel in which a couple thousand people lived, along with their farm animals for months until the War had moved further North and they could safely return home. Midway through, this tunnel has a large opening, providing the people back then some much-needed fresh air, and today, a beautiful view to Rimini and the Adriatic coast.

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Now for a bit of family history. Towards the end of San Marino’s participation in WW2, an Italian pilot was shot down over my Grandparents’ farm. They gave him shelter in a pit they dug under a large wood pile. (I was taught that it was under a chicken coop.) Using a rope, my Nonna would lower food and drink to him through a hole, at about 1:00 AM every night, until it was safe for him to come out of hiding — well over a month later. This picture shows what was once part of my family’s farmland. In the distance, on the left, is a white building. Before it is where the wood pile once was.

Zio's HideawayI bet you’re wondering what happened to the pilot. After the War, he stayed on at the farm and later married my Dad’s Sister. They eventually immigrated to New York City, where they raised their 3 children.

Next stop: Florence

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

couscous 2They sure took their time getting here but Summer temperatures have finally arrived. For me that means my stove and oven are used less as the temps rise. Today we’ll look back to a no-cook salad that has couscous as its base. Whether you serve it for a light lunch or tasty side, you won’t be disappointed. You can see the recipe by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Spaghetti alla ChitaraSpaghetti alla Chitarra all’Amatriciana

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Homemade Garganelli Pasta

Garganelli Fatti in Casa

The draft of today’s post has been waiting a couple of years to be posted. This is, in fact, the 4th intro that I’ve written for it. Something has come up to prevent its publication every time I’ve penciled it into my schedule. This, though, is definitely its time. You see, I was “introduced” to garganelli while in Rome — twelve years ago with Zia.

Rome was the last stop of our vacanza and I found a restaurant with the same name as that of my family’s surname. Mind you, it’s not like we have the Italian version of “Smith” or “Chang” as a surname —  quite the contrary. Yet, there is a restaurant or trattoria with our name above the door in just about every city in Italy and in many major cities here, across The Pond, as well. Be that as it may, I noticed a dish of penne being delivered to a nearby table and, when the time came, mentioned to our waiter that I would like the same as my primo piatto. He politely pointed out that it was garganelli and not penne. I decided right then and there to learn how to make garganelli once I got home — and get my eyes checked. Not long after, I was back home making garganelli — but the story doesn’t end here.

Last May, upon arrival to our flat in Rome, the owner went out of her way to make us feel at home, describing in detail each of the flat’s amenities. She was especially anxious to show us the terrace. With a view of the Colosseum, the dome of St. Peter’s, and the Vittorio Emmanuel II Monument, it was easy to see why she couldn’t wait to show it to us.

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A Flat with a VIew*     *     *

When we returned from the terrace, she presented us with her own guide-book to Rome, paying particular attention to the flat’s locale. When we got to the page with her restaurant recommendations, the first on the list was a restaurant bearing my family’s surname. I thought it a coincidence — until we arrived there later that evening. The route looked so familiar, especially a long flight of stairs along the was very much like the one that had troubled Zia a dozen years before. Any lingering doubts I may have had vanished upon entering the establishment. This was, indeed, the same restaurant in which Zia and I dined and where I “discovered” garganelli. Surely, this was a sign that I should finally publish my garganelli post as soon as I returned to WordPress.

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Similar in shape to penne, garganelli are a tubular pasta that come from the Emilia-Romagna area of Italy. With Bologna as its capital, Emilia-Romagna is known for its hearty meat sauces. (Pasta Bolognese, anyone?) Garganelli, like penne, is particularly well-suited for such sauces and its use has spread to other areas of Italy because of that. In fact, Abruzzo, a mountainous province just south of Marche, is known for its lamb ragu and very often garganelli is the pasta of choice. Lamb not your thing? Well, go north a bit and into Tuscany. There you’ll find they make a rich veal ragu and it, too, is used to dress garganelli. Before you start googling, I can save you the keystrokes and send you to  Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide, for a veal ragu recipe that’s about as authentic as you’ll find anywhere on the web. (Greg, by the way, introduced me the movie, “Big Night“, in which garganelli is handmade in preparation for the film’s climactic feast.)

Whereas it’s quite difficult to create perfect penne by hand, garganelli is very often handmade and has a “flap” where the pasta is joined to create the tube. Just like penne rigate, garganelli traditionally have ridges on each tube’s outer surface; the better to hold on to that rich tomato sauce. Now, you can search the web and you’ll find gadgets made just for putting ridges on your garganelli, but not me. Years ago, much to the amusement of Mom & Zia, I bought a gnocchi board that is used to put ridges on gnocchi. (In my defense, I needed a few more dollars in my order to qualify for free shipping and a gnocchi board was just the ticket.) As you’ll soon see below, and I was quick to point out to Zia, putting ridges on garganelli is yet another (of two) uses for this wonderful kitchen gadget. Now, don’t fret if you haven’t this nifty little gadget taking up space in a junk drawer. You can just as easily use the back of a fork, like you would when making gnocchi, or leave them smooth, like normal penne. No matter. Don’t let the absence of a few ridges cause you to miss out on this great tasting pasta!

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How To Make Garganelli

Begin by making a batch of Mom’s Pasta dough. That will give you 1.5 pounds (680 g) of dough. Roll the dough to a thickness of 6 or 7 on a pasta machine, where 1 is the widest setting. Pictures will tell the rest of the tale.

Note: I use a straight edge here because I could neither cut nor draw a straight line if my life depended upon doing so.

Use a straight edge to divide a dough sheet into 2 strips about 2 inches wide

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Use the straight edge to cut the strips into 2 inch squares

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Place a square on the gnocchi board and moisten the lower corner

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Use the dowel, begin with top corner, and roll the square to form a tube

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Create ridges by applying pressure while square is rolled to bottom of board

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My garganelli have ridges, thanks to my gnocchi board!

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A Gaggle of Garganelli

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Just One Thing More

Some of you have requested that I post photos from my trip and I’m in the process of getting them all identified and organized. As you may well imagine, I’ve literally dozens of photos shot during my recent holiday and I intend to share some of the more memorable ones. Unfortunately, several dozen were “lost” when I tried to upload them to my iPad and the Cloud. (Ironically, I was uploading the photos to insure I wouldn’t lose them should I encounter a problem with one of my flash memory cards.) As a result, I have only a few pictures of Bologna and San Marino. Luckily, the photos of my family were spared, as they were on another flash card and I discovered the problem before I attempted to “save” them. I guess I’ll just have to go back to Italy so that I can re-shoot those pics.

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Bologna proved to be a wonderful start for my holiday. It’s an old city and there are plenty of medieval structures still remaining. At one time, some 180 towers reached for the skies, though only about 20 remain today. Of those, the Two Towers, Due Torri, are the most famous and dominate the city’s skyline. Walking about the city, you can’t help but notice that many of its walkways are covered, with columns forming the street-side “wall”. They’re a photographer’s dream, so long as you don’t botch the memory card upload. (Sigh.)  As capital of Emilia-Romagna, Bologna offers the best foods of the district and, some would say, all of Italy. I certainly found no evidence to the contrary. I really enjoyed my time there and hope to return one day. I’ll be sure to stay longer, though, so that I can more fully explore the city.

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(Click to enlarge)

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

michigans bountyIt’s tart cherry season once again in my former home state of Michigan. Having a season of barely 3 weeks, now’s the time to head to the orchards and get your share. If you miss out, the best you’ll probably be able to do is to buy them canned or in jars. In the past, I’ve used them to bake pies and muffins, as well as to make jam. Click on each item to see its recipe.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Fried Sage PreviewFried Sage

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