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When Marie di Medici left Florence to go to Marry Henry IV of France in 1600 she took along a small army of cooks, plus a fortune in gold. Her cooks revolutionized French cuisine. Prior to her arrival, cooking methods were locked into the dark ages and not noticeably improved. One of the sauces her cooks introduced was bechamel or your basic white sauce. Mayonnaise was another addition to the repertoire. It is safe to say that Italy and China are the two mother kitchens of the world.
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
2 C milk
In a saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour with a wooden spoon until it has a little colour. Stir in the milk and mix until it becomes creamy. Add salt and a few grinds of nutmeg. Also you can add grana and/or an egg yolk. (Stir egg yolk in a small bowl and add a little of the sauce and blend, then add the mixture to the rest of the sauce. This called tempering, which will prevent the yolk from curdling or becoming lumpy.
1 lb fresh basil leaves, stemmed
4 cloves of garlic
¼ C pine nuts toasted
Pinch of salt
1 Tbsp capers
2 C extravirgin olive oil
Place all ingredients in a food processor and puree, adding the oil in a slow drizzle. Store in sterile containers with a film of olive oil on top in the fridge. Warning. Freezing will turn the pesto black. Also check to make sure they’re that there is enough oil on top to keep out any exposure to the air. Seal well.
Spread on bruschetti. Toss with your favourite pasta. Season sauces. Add to besciamella.
(A little pesto in besciamella and a portion of salsa pepperoni (bell pepper sauce) on a plate to underline grilled fresh tuna, monk fish, or halibut steaks.)
If there is any doubt about spoilage, throw it out.
This is an old Napolitano recipe that has been adopted in many parts of Italy and with regional variations. The root word refers to sailors or fish wives and one would assume that there should be something of the sea in it such as anchovies, but this isn’t necessarily so.
My preferred version consists of
2 15 oz tins of diced tomatoes in juice
2 15 oz tins of tomato sauce
2-3 Tbsp extravirgin olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic
Several fresh basil leaves or 1 tsp dried
2 Tbsp butter.
Place a heavy saucepan on high heat and add the olive oil to the hot pan. Add the cloves of garlic and using a wooden spoon, quickly fry the garlic until it browns, then remove the garlic from the oil.
Immediately add the canned tomatoes and sauce reduce the heat and bring the Marinara up to just below the simmer and then add the basil and the butter and stir.
Keep the sauce warm in a bain-marie. This sauce is great for all kinds of pasta. Best topped with a little fresh grana (equal parts freshly grated Parmagiana and Romano cheeses).
To keep cooked Italian sausages, after placing the sausages in pan with a little water and cooked until the water has evaporated and the sausages have browned, then add a ladle or two of marinara over the sausages. The sauce will absorb the reduced dry brown residue from the bottom of the pan.
Of course, you can add a few anchovies to the hot oil after removing the browned garlic cloves. I try to mash the cloves a bit without breaking them while they brown.
Salsa di peperoni
Bell Pepper Sauce
2 each red, green and yellow bell peppers
8 cloves of garlic
3 C chopped Romano tomatoes
2 C whole tomatoes
3 sprigs Italian parsley
12 grinds black pepper
¼ C extravirgin olive oil
Seed and break the peppers into chunks. Take a heavy deep saucepan and put it on high heat. Add the olive oil and when it just starts to smoke add the pepper chunks and the garlic, stirring continuously until the peppers are soft.
Add the tomatoes, ground pepper and parsley and simmer for 45 minutes. Pass the peppers through a food mill.
Store in sterile pint jars in the fridge for a few days or apply canning lids and rings and process submerged in a boiling hot water bath for 30-45 minutes. Also can be processed in a pressure cooker on high pressure for 10-15 minutes.
RISOTTO CON GAMBERI
Risotto with Crayfish
12 oz rice
1 lb crayfish
Salt and pepper
Wash and clean the crayfish and boil them in a lot of salted water with an onion to add flavour. After ten seconds remove them and reserve some of the cooking water.
Remove the heads of the crayfish and put them back into the water and cook them for another 15 minutes. Shell the bodies and cut them into bits.
In a fire proof casserole brown 2 beads minced garlic in some olive oil and a tablespoon of minced parsley. Add the crayfish along with the rice.
Strain the cooking water and add by ladles to the rice, stirring until it is well absorbed, about 18 minutes.
Dosi per 6 porzioni circa:
350 gr. di riso
500 gr. di gamberi
sale e pepe
Lavate i gamberi e lessateli in un litro abbondante di acqua salata bollente insaporita con una cipolla. Dopo una decina di minuti, scolateli e tenete da parte l'acqua di cottura.
Dividete le teste dai corpi, mettete le prime nell'acqua di cottura e cuocetele per altri 15 minuti. Sgusciate i corpi e tagliateli a pezzetti.
In casseruola, in mezzo bicchiere di olio, rosolate il trito di due spicchi di aglio e un cucchiaio di prezzemolo. Unite i corpi (code) dei gamberi e, insaporiti che siano, versate il riso.
Fate cuocere il tutto dopo aver salato, pepato e coperto a filo col brodo di teste filtrato. Aggiungete brodo man mano che asciuga sino al termine della cottura: circa 18 minuti.
Tuscan Garlic Bread
Take a loaf of crusty French or Italian bread and slice in 1-inch slabs on the bias. Grill or toast until crispy on both sides and then rub it with a bead of garlic and dress the slices with Italian extravirgin oilve oil, preferably from Tuscany. A glass of Fontodi Chianti Reserva and this burschetta makes for an Italian breakfast before going into the vineyards to pick grapes. Or as an excellent anitpasti.
Of all of the regional cuisines of Italy, Tuscan stresses simplicity, causing a few ingredients to create food where you can taste the individual components separately or as a whole.
Equal parts Reggio Parmagiana and Romano cheese grated. I use the grater thing on my mixer or the a shredder balde on the food processor to start with. Then I use the cutting blade on the processor to make it finer. Then I store in a re-sealable plastic storage bag in the fridge. It keeps fresh for several weeks and is always handy to provide garnish for salads or to add to cream sauces or to add thick slices of toasted French or Italian bread that has been rubbed with a bead of garlic and seasoned with extravirgin olive oil for a bruschetta. Always good as a garnish on red sauces also.
A story about cornmeal mush, grits or polenta.
Polenta is an ancient dish from the days of the Roman Republic, but in those days it was made from buckwheat or similar grains. Pulmentum as Caesar knew it fed the Roman Legions as they conquered the Roman Empire.
One day in the 16th century some opportunistic sailors from either Pisa for Venice or some such Italian city-state happened upon a Turkish cargo ship on its way back from Spain and they helped themselves to the cargo that consisted of corn or maize.
This cargo ended up for sale in Venice and the Italians called the maize Turkish corn. The corn was planted and it became a staple food for the Italian peasants of the north of Italy. The ground corn replaced the buckwheat of the old pulmentum.
Polenta migrated all over Europe and came back to the new world with the poor and impoverished immigrants from Europe who brought their cuisines with them.
In the South ground cornmeal fed slaves and become known as grits. White folk eschewed yellow grits and preferred the white kind. I’m sorry to say that one of my grandmothers was one who looked down on folk that ate yellow grits.
Tradition calls for cooking polenta in a copper pan. In Italy you can buy machines that have a copper bowl that sits on a base that heats and rotates the bowl, while mixing and cooking the polenta.
Setting tradition aside, I take 3 cups of water and add a teaspoon or so of salt and bring it to a boil. I may also add a little cayenne pepper or white pepper, depending on my mood. Then when the water is boiling I take a heavy wooden spoon and a cup of coarse cornmeal and slowly drizzle it into the boiling water. I continue to stir this until the polenta begins to thicken. I might add a tablespoon of butter at this time. After the polenta starts to come unstuck on the sides of the sauce pan I might add a little cream along with a couple of tablespoons of grana (equal blend of Romano and Reggio Parmigiana grated cheese).
The consistency may vary due to the moisture content of the cornmeal and the amount of water or cornmeal or heat used to cook the polenta.
One way I like polenta is to take thin slices of pancetta (cold cure Italian bacon) that are quickly grilled crisp and then used as a bed for the polenta.
1 lb ground beef
2-3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
4 15 oz tins of diced tomatoes in juice
2 Tbsp tomato paste
½ tsp oregano
2 tsp dried basil leaves or ¼ C fresh, julienned
Several grinds of fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp salt, kosher if you have it.
1 quart ricotta
Fresh Pasta sheets
1 ¾ C unbleached flour
¼ C semolina
3 large eggs
1 tsp water
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
Place the eggs, water, oil and salt in a food processor box and blend well. Combine the flour and semolina on a sheet of wax paper. Turn on the processor and slowly add the flour through the shoot. If you have a pastry blade use that as the steel blade and cause too much heat. Process quickly until the dough starts t combine. Empty the dough onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes. Let the dough rest. The dough should be dense and fairly stiff.
Set up your pasta machine and tear off a chunk of dough the size of an egg and set the roller on the widest (1) setting and start putting the dough through. Fold the dough and repeat a couple of more times. Reduce the setting to 2 and repeat until you come to the thinnest setting (7 on my machine.) keep your work surface lightly dusted with flour.
When you have gotten the dough to the thinnest setting. Cut it into 8-inch segments, dust lightly with flour and stack on a sheet of wax paper. Repeat processing the rest of the dough.
4 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp flour
2 C milk
Pinch of salt
Grind of nutmeg
¼ C grana (blended grated Romano and Parmigiana cheese)
Melt butter in a heavy saucepan and when foam subsides add flour to make a roux. Cook the roux until it has a light cream colour. Whisk in milk, salt and nutmeg, stirring over medium low heat until sauce thickens. Whisk in the grana.
In a heavy Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat and add the minced onions and cook for a few minutes then add the minced garlic. Put the tomato paste into the center and then start adding the crumbled ground beef. Cook, stirring until the beef is browned. Add the tins of diced tomatoes, herbs salt and pepper. Simmer while making your pasta sheets.
To prepare the lasagne, take a large shallow pan and fill it half full of water and bring it to a boil. Add enough salt to make as saline as seawater. A little oil added will reduce any foaming. Set up a large bowl with ice water near the stove. When the water boils add a sheet of pasta and let it cook for 2-3 minutes then remove it with a large strainer spoon (I use a copper Chinese tool used to remove items from hot oil in a wok) and transfer the pasta sheet to the ice water. Repeat until all sheets are cooked. They should have a silky feel to them.
Take a large ceramic of steel 14x10x2 inch pan and brush it with extra virgin olive oil. Take pasta sheets and make the first layer. Cut sheets if needed to completely cover the bottom.
Ladle in some ragu followed by some besciamella and dollops of ricotta and sprinkle in some grana and then add another layer of pasta until the pan is full. On the top layer use only besciamella, grana and dollops of butter. Cover in foil and bake in a 350 oven for 1 to 1 ½ hours or until the top is golden brown. Remove to a cooling rack and cover with plastic wrap to cool and set at least 1 hour before serving. Italians like their food a blood temperature, not scalding hot like we Americans.
To serve, cut into equal portions and serve with any left over ragu or besciamella. Tossed green salad with a simple oil and vinegar dressing along with Italian bread makes a meal to remember.
Leftovers can be frozen for later use.
1 pound stale bread
3 tomatoes cut into 8ths
2 red onions, thinly slices
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced
extravirgin olive oil
Soak the sliced stale bread in cold water for 10 minutes. Squeeze out the water and crumble the bread into a serving bowl. Add tomatoes, cucumber, onions and basil. Season will olive oil and salt. Mix well and let sit. Before serving, add vinegar and mix again. Serve with olive oil, vinegar, and salt on the side.
I had the great pleasure of having this salad at an estate in Tuscanny that makes Fontodi Chiantis. As to the basil, use fresh leaves and 1 part vinegar to parts olive oil, whisked and then mixed into the salad. Salt to taste. I prefer using kosher salt, but a coarse sea salt would also enhance the flavour of this salad.
Petti di pollo
1 lb chicken breast tenders
1 Tbsp extravirgin olive oil
3 Tbsp butter
2 C sliced cremini mushrooms
3-4 scallions, chopped
¼ C dry sherry
½ C heavy cream
In lieu of the sherry,
you can use white vermouth.
Roll chicken tenders in seasoned flour (or sprinkle some seasoned salt on the tenders and then roll them in the flour.)
Heat olive oil and butter in a heavy skillet and lay the tenders into the hot fat and brown the lightly. Add the mushrooms and scallions and continue to sauté for few minutes more.
Add the sherry and then the cream. Reduce heat and simmer, reducing the sauce. Remove to a serving dish and garnish with a few fluted mushrooms that have been poached in sherry.
Serve with polenta and green beans that have been seasoned with pancetta. Mince pancetta and heat in a little olive oil until it starts to brown. Add the green beans, sauté briefly and then add a little chicken broth to simmer until the beans are al dente.