madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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peperoni all’aceto balsamico

a very Italian stir fry, balsamic glazed bell peppers

a very Italian stir fry, balsamic glazed bell peppers

BALSAMIC GLAZED BELL PEPPERS  More glorious summer colors and Mediterranean flavors here. Make sure to use large, thick fleshed, fresh peppers, yellow or red as the green ones are not sweet enough.

Capers are the edible buds of  a hardy bush which grows on walls and rocky soils in the  Aeolian islands, near Sicily. If possible, use small capers preserved in salt, they are more aromatic and less pungent than the pickled ones. This is a simpler version of a recipe I found on Antonio Carluccio’s book “Southern Italian feast”.

Recipe

  • 2 large red or yellow peppers
  • 3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon salted capers, rinsed
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Deseed the peppers and cut them in 1/2-inch wide strips. Put the oil and pepper strips in a large, heavy based, pan and cook over fairly high heat for 10 min., stirring often to prevent burning.
Lower the fire, move the peppers strips towards the edge of the pan and add the pressed garlic, and anchovy, stirring quickly until the anchovy melts. Add vinegar, stir for a few more minutes, sprinkle with chopped basil and remove from the fire.  Let it rest for at least one hour and up to two days, it improves with time. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Serves 4


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warm chickpea and arugula salad

crunchy, lemony and soft at the same time, a garbanzo bean salad

crunchy and soft at the same time, a garbanzo bean salad

INSALATA TIEPIDA DI CECI E RUCOLA. Ancient Romans, rich or poor, were quite fond of chickpeas and consumed them frequently dressed in olive oil. Rucola – also called rocket or arugula – is cultivated only since a couple of decades but it has been collected in the wild as an edible herb for many centuries.

Recipe

  • 250 gr (approx. 1 and 1/2 cups) cooked chickpeas
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • a couple of handfuls rucola leaves  washed and drained
  • 1 garlic clove finely chopped or minced with a garlic press
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon aged balsamic vinegar (optional)

If using canned chickpeas, rinse and drain.

In a shallow saucepan warm olive oil and garlic until fragrant. Add chickpeas and cumin, simmer slowly until warm. Switch off heat, add tomatoes and rucola, season and transfer in a bowl to serve immediately. If the dish has to wait, cover to keep warm and add the rucola only before serving. Drizzle with good quality balsamic vinegar if desired.

Serves 2 as an appetizer or vegetarian main.

Optional: to make the salad more substantial, cook 125 gr./one cup farro in boiling water. Drain, toss with 2 tablespoon EVO oil and add to the chick peas. Serves 4


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pear and pecorino ravioli

homemade ravioli with a pear filling and aged balsamic dressing

homemade ravioli with a pear filling and aged balsamic dressing

RAVIOLI CON PERE E PECORINO. I love homemade ravioli, these little pockets of delight. Pear and cheese is a classic combination, but it’s not traditionally used on pasta. This recipe is a good example of Italian modern cuisine. For me this is defined by a few traditional ingredients of excellent quality  used in a novel way and brief cooking to preserve flavors. The result is light, balanced and utterly delicious.

To obtain the right texture you need pears with firm smooth flesh, not the grainy and soft ones. Then you need seriously aged balsamic vinegar, I use 15 years old .

Recipe

For the ravioli:

  • 250 gr./8 ounces fresh  ricotta
  • 1 pear
  • 60 gr (2 ounces) grated Parmesan
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 recipe basic pasta dough

For the sauce:

  • 60 gr (2 ounces) butter
  • 30 gr (1 ounce) thin shavings of Parmesan or aged pecorino
  • 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar/person or raw honey

Peel, slice and cut the pear in very small pieces, saute briefly in 1 teaspoon butter and cool. Add to the ricotta cheese, lemon zest and grated Parmesan.

Divide the pasta into balls of the size of a large egg. Using a pasta machine roll them out into long thin strips.
Put teaspoons of the pear and cheese filling about 5 cm (2 inches) apart on the sheet so that you can make a “parcel” by folding over the pasta sheet. Using a pasta cutter seal each parcel by cutting on three sides (the fourth is the fold). Dust a large tray or your worktop with flour and carefully place the ravioli on it taking care that they do not overlap.

Cook in salted boiling water until al dente, about 3 and 1/2 min. Cooking time depends on the thickness of the pasta and on how dry the ravioli are. Drain and toss ravioli with the remaining butter. Distribute onto 4 plates, top with Parmesan (or pecorino) shavings and drizzle with balsamic vinegar or honey.

To make vegetable ravioli, substitute pear with 500 gr./1 pound spinach leaves, blanched in boiling water, squeezed as dry as possible and very finely chopped. Another delicious alternative is to dice 3 medium zucchini and sautè in olive oil until just golden. Add one finely minced garlic clove and a few thorn basil leaves. Pulse chop in a food processor together with the ricotta and two tablespoons Parmesan until creamy.

Makes about 50 ravioli, serves 4.


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balsamic vinegar

aged balsamic vinegar

mellow, thick, intense, truly aged balsamic vinegar

ACETO BALSAMICO di MODENA. We are so lucky in modern times. Foods and flavors that in the past were only for king and princes, are now available to (almost) any commoner who likes to enjoy life. As early as 1046, future emperor Henry III writes to Marquis Boniface, father of Mathilde of Canossa to ask a gift of of a bottle of ‘the old vinegar made to smell most beautiful and sweet’.  Most likely this was  the ancestor of balsamic vinegar. By the end of the XVI century, the Dukes of Ferrara and Modena graced their tables and those of their important friends with this aromatic (= balsamico) elixir.

Modern balsamic vinegar is still made like centuries ago, using cooked grape must in a battery of seven barrels of successively smaller sizes each made of different woods. The vinegar is aged for a minimum of 12 years and sold in round 10o ml bottles labelled as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale. The traditional balsamic is certified  by the consortium of producers of Modena or of Reggio Emilia.

Why it’s so special? It’s an artisanal product, made in small amounts over a long time, the barrels  are used by a producer for generations. The slow fermentation, the balance of  grape varieties, the aging in a sequence of  different woods imparts a complex aromatic flavor by which every traditional balsamic vinegar is unique and splendid. It is something to be used sparingly, by the drop and uncooked. It’s expensive, starting at 60 Euro for a 12 years old.

Only a traditional can be considered a true balsamic, but other products labelled as balsamic vinegars or balsamic condiments are easier on the budget and practical for use in larger amounts. The cheapest stuff is red wine vinegar sweetened with caramel and added with artificial flavors, please ignore.

Some uncertified balsamic it’s made like the traditional but is less aged and therefore less expensive, 25- 30 Euro a bottle. You need to buy it from a reputable dealer. It is delicious with aged cheese, roast red meat and used in dressing of special salads together with good extra virgin olive oil.

An everyday balsamic  should be aged 3 or 4 years and sweetened with cooked grape must. It is acceptable for sauces, deglazing and reductions. It’s easy, it’s pleasant, but remember, it’s not the real thing.

Where to find good balsamic vinegar in the Assisi area:
Terra Umbra Antica, Via Patrono d’Italia 10/a, Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi.

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