fried Sicilian pidoni (you can also bake them)

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endive stuffed Sicilian pidoni

PIDONI FRITTI ALLA MESSINESE. The Pitoni or Pidoni are parcels of a pizza-like dough, stuffed with curly endive, mozzarella and a tiny bit of anchovy. Not dissimilar to calzoni but fried, they are a typical and most appreciated dish from Messina. In Sicily you can find them in the friggitorie, the Italian equivalent of fish and chips shops.

The dough it’s made with more fat than regular pizza, so it becomes deliciously flaky once is fried.

I know, I know what you’re thinking. “I can’t fry”. The pidoni in the picture are actually baked and fabulous. However if you can, do fry them please. Just once, you won’t regret it.

For this recipe you need a summer evening, a bunch of friends and family, kids running around in the garden, plenty cold drinks and a huge bucket of fruit salad as a dessert. They are filling so it’s a one dish dinner. It’s party food, make it once and I promise, they’ll want it forever.

Recipe

For the dough:

  • 400 gr (3 cups) Italian 00 or pastry flour
  • 200 gr ( 2 cups) Manitoba or strong bread flour
  • 300 ml (1 and 1/3 cup) water
  • 2 gr ( 1/2 teaspoon) active dry yeast
  • 40 gr (6 tablespoon) olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

For the filling:

  • 500 gr (1 lb, about 2 bunches) curly endive which is also named chicory or frisee
  • 600 gr /18 oz diced canned tomato
  • 400 gr (14 oz) fresh mozzarella
  • 6-8 anchovy fillets
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • vegetable oil for deep frying

Schedule and method:

  1. Twenty-four hours before you need it, make the dough using  my instructions for slow focaccia. Basically you need to mix the dough ingredients , oil the dough, cover it and let it raise in a draft-free area. About half way the proving period knead it briefly to knock off the gas and cover again.
  2. A couple of hours before dinner, make the filling. Wash the curly endive thoroughly and chop it finely. I pulse it in a food processor. Mix the chopped salad with the tomatoes, salt lightly and transfer in a colander for at least one hour. It’s important to remove as much liquid as possible from the vegetable mixture so squeeze it in a cotton towel if necessary. Transfer in a bowl, add one tablespoon olive oil and season the filling with a sprinkle of black pepper.
  3. One hour before dinner, divide the risen dough into 16 equal pieces. Roll each into a ball. Place each ball on a lightly floured work surface and roll out into a thin disk of about 20 cm ( 8 inch) in diameter.
  4. Now assemble the pidoni. You’ll need to work fast so they don’t fall apart. Divide the filling among the 16 disks leaving a 2.5cm ( 1 inch) margin around the edge. Place 1 slice of mozzarella and 1/2 anchovy fillet broken in 2-3 pieces over the filling and fold the disk of dough to form a small calzone.
  5. It’s time to cook them. Preheat the oil in a deep saucepan,  until a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns golden in about 25 seconds. Seal the edges of the pidoni with a fork,  drop them carefully  into the hot oil and fry for 3-4 minutes per batch until golden . Drain on kitchen towel and set aside while you continue making the next batch. Continue until all are finished and serve.

If you decide to bake them, brush the pidoni with olive oil on both sides, place them in an oven tray lined with parchment paper and bake them in a very hot oven until golden, 15- 20 min.

Serves 6-8

Eggplant Parmigiana

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glorious eggplants, a taste of summer

EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA.

I’m biting my nails here because I have so many things to tell you and if I don’t make a selection,  I’ll probably never get to the recipe.

First of all the name. Parmigiana literally means “from Parma”. However, this  recipe has been known as a tradition in Naples and Sicily since the early XIX century. Food historians have not come up with a conclusive explanation of why an iconic Southern dish has a Northern name. Some say that preparing vegetables alla parmigiana – i.e. in the way of Parma – refers to the use of layers interspersed with cheese and baked.

In origin, the eggplant parmigiana must not have not included Parmesan cheese which is now a standard ingredient. The Southerners used pecorino, provolone, caciocavallo, or mozzarella.

Who knows, may be the people from Parma invented the method and the Southerners adapted it to local ingredients.

I have inscribed this dish in the list of the mistreated foods of Italy. Too often I see impossibly fat recipes oozing cheap cheese, heavy bread-crumb coating and drowning in industrial amounts of oil. A gastroenterologist nightmare.

On the other hand I lost count of absurd adaptations to make it “light”. I admit it, it’s not a low-cal dish but if one wants dessert one has to have some sugar, right? So what’s the sense to use all sorts of alternatives which will taste and look like something else?

The eggplant parmigiana is a dish of fried eggplants baked with a little cheese and tomato sauce.  That’s it, simple, vegetarian and fantastic if properly prepared.

Recipe

  • 2 large eggplants
  • 300 gr / 8  oz fresh mozzarella sliced
  • 1 400 gr / 12 oz  tin peeled or diced San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion,  diced
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • 10-12 fresh basil leaves

Eggplants:

Prepare and fry and  eggplants as explained here . Place in a colander for a few hours or possibly overnight to get read of excess oil. Grilled eggplants are often too dry, but if you don’t want to fry blanch them before grilling to keep them moist. Here is my recipe.

Sauce:

Heat 1 tablespoon EVO oil in a pan, add the onion, cover  and saute over low heat until translucent. Stir in the tinned tomato and a sprig of basil, cover again and cook for approx. 10 min. Season lightly with salt and black pepper.

Preheat oven at 180 °C / 350 °F.

Build up the parmigiana: spread two tablespoons of the sauce on  the bottom of a ovenproof pan. Cover with a single  layer of eggplant slices. Top with mozzarella, 2-3  basil leaves, 1 tablespoons of Parmesan and 2-3 tablespoons of sauce. Continue using all ingredients and finish with a layer of eggplant, sauce and Parmesan. Bake for 30 min until golden and bubbly.  You must allow it to cool off for at least 10 min before serving but it’s best at room temperature. In the summer we have it as a main vegetarian meal with crusty bread to mop up the gorgeous juices.

sformato di carciofi

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meltingly delicious, I can have artichokes every day

ARTICHOKE TIMBALE .   This recipe reminds me so much of my mother that I can hardly bring myself to write about it. It brings good, happy memories as this was one of her favorite dishes for picnics.  Yes, other people had sandwiches and salads, we had lasagne, eggplant parmesan and sformato di carciofi. We also had a small folding table with a miniature table-cloth and real fork and knives, no plastic. So we lived in the ’70, eating good and proper under the spring sun.

Recipe

  • 8 artichokes
  • 6 eggs
  • 100 gr (3 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 200 gr (7 ounces) mozzarella or cow’s milk caciotta thinly sliced
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoon bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 lemon

Put a large pan of water on the fire, squeeze the juice of the lemon in the water and add the squeezed lemon to it. This prevents the artichokes turning a scary turquoise color while cooking. Rinse artichokes and drop in the boiling water. Cook for 20 min or until one of the central leaves come away with a little give. Drain and cool. Pull away the outer tough leaves, peel and trim stems, and cut away the choke if there is any. Quarter artichokes and then cut quarters in half again.

Beat the eggs with the Parmesan and season. Butter a bundt-pan generously, then dust with the bread crumbs, knocking out the excess. Now build up the timbale in the pan by layering artichokes and cheese  ending with artichokes. Pour the egg and cheese mixture, sprinkle with an extra tablespoon or two of Parmesan and bake at 200 °C (390 °F) until set and golden.

Serves 8 as an appetizer, 6 as a vegetarian main. Serve at room temperature.

home-made pizza

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a slice of heaven

a slice of heaven

HOMEMADE PIZZA. In Italy, the term pizza is generally used to indicate a flat bread which can be stuffed or topped with all sorts of ingredients.  In Central Italy, pizza is also  a panettone-shaped bread traditionally made for Easter.  No news so far, all Mediterranean populations have been eating flat breads for at least 3000 years.

Things changed when, at the end of 1700, someone in Naples had the brilliant idea to top the pizza with tomatoes and invented the world’s number one most popular food, the pizza Napoletana.

The recipe of the traditional Neapolitan pizza  is now protected by a law dictating the ingredients and methods of preparation. A traditional pizza Margherita should be made with a 10 hours leavened dough, hand rolled, topped with fresh crushed tomatoes, mozzarella, olive oil and basil and cooked for 60 to 90 seconds at 485 °C (905 °F) in a wood oven.

That’s it, no pineapple.

My pizza is not a Neapolitan pizza as the above method cannot simply be reproduced with home equipment and schedule. It’s a recipe lovingly developed by my mother over years of experiments in her small electrical oven. It’s the best home pizza one can get in a relatively short time. Really, this time I will not be modest.

Recipe

for pizza dough:

  • 4 gr. (1 teaspoon) active dry yeast
  • 250 ml (1 cup) warm water
  • 400 gr (3 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

for topping:

  • 300 gr (9 ounces) fresh mozzarella, cubed
  • 2 flat anchovy fillets cut in approx. 10 small pieces
  • 1 400 gr (12 ounces) tin diced tomato
  • 1 teaspoon dry oregano
  • 1 tablespoon EVO oil

Sprinkle the yeast over the water. Let it stand 1 minute, or until the yeast is creamy. Stir until the yeast dissolves. In a food processor, combine flour, olive oil, sugar and salt. Mix briefly. Add the yeast mixture and mix at maximum speed until a soft dough forms. Alternatively mix ingredients by hand in a large bowl, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Lightly coat a pizza pan with ½ olive oil and ½ sunflower oil. Place the dough on a table, and flatten the dough with a rolling pin until it is about ½ cm (1/4 inch) thin. Place the pan in a warm, draft-free place, cover with a tea towel and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1/2 an hour.

While the pizza is raising, warm up your oven at maximum temperature. Allow enough time for the oven to stay at maximum temperature for at least 15 min before cooking the pizza

Distribute the mozzarella cubes, anchovy fillets and tomato over the pizza dough. Sprinkle with dry oregano, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle with EVO oil and cook in the high part of the oven for 8 min or until golden below and around the sides.

Should you have more time and are able to plan your pizza dinner one day ahead, please try the slow dough version.

lasagne

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homemade lasagna, worlds apart from imitations

homemade lasagna, worlds apart from imitations

LASAGNA. First of all the terminology. In Italian a “lasagna” is one sheet of rectangular pasta used in the famous baked pasta recipe. The correct name of the dish refers to the plural  “lasagne” indicating the use of several sheets of pasta layered with delicious condiments and sauce.

This is one of those dishes that evokes dreamy eyes and remembrance of happy family Sundays. Of moments in life when everything is so good and so simple.

One the other hand this must be one of the most mistreated recipes in the kingdom of ugly culinary shortcuts. This is because making real lasagne involves work. If you are not prepared to devote some time and effort to it, please eat spaghetti!

Our cooking class guests are often surprised at how light is a good homemade lasagna. For best results it is essential  to precook the pasta sheets, to use fresh mozzarella – not ricotta – and modest amounts of condiments on each layer. My friend Sandra explains it better than I do and has several pictures.

Recipe

  • 1/2 kg (1 pound) fresh lasagna sheets
  • 60 gr (2 ounces) Parmesan cheese grated
  • 200 gr (7  ounces) good quality ham torn in small pieces
  • 400 gr (14 ounces) fresh mozzarella cubed
  • 200 ml/ ¾ cup Béchamel sauce (white sauce)
  • 4 to 6 cups ragu‘ sauce

Precook the lasagna sheets in boiling hot salted water for 1 minute if fresh, 3 min if dry. Drain and place individual sheets on the tabletop to cool.
Build up the lasagne layers starting with a ladleful of sauce on the bottom of an ovenproof pan. Alternate pasta sheets, mozzarella, ham, Béchamel, ragu’, Parmesan. Drizzle approx. 3 tablespoon of the red sauce and 1 and 1/2 tablespoon of the white sauce on each layer. You need just a sprinkle of cheese and ham. Spread the top layer evenly with the ragu’, add 1-2 tablespoon of Béchamel and finally sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoon Parmesan.

Lasagne can be made in advance and frozen. Make sure to defrost completely before cooking as otherwise they will become soggy.

Cook in moderate oven at 200 degrees C (400 F) for 1/2 hour. Serves 6.

PS. in the unlikely case you ave leftovers, you can freeze them but make sure to heat it in the oven or microwave for the shortest possible time otherwise the lasagna will overcook.