madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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asparagus 101

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spring on the plate: soft scrambled eggs with fragrant wild asparagus

With all the running around, worries and excitement about the new house I forgot to post my April article in The American in Italia magazine featuring another of my favorite recipes, Parmesan and asparagus eggs.

Please remember that if you don’t have wild asparagus or the season is over, you need to choose fairly thin green asparagus and use them as soon as possible so they stay fresh and crunchy. Remove the woody part of the stem, toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil per 1/2 pound asparagus and broil them for 15-20 min until just cooked through and slightly charred.Remove from under the grill, add some crushed garlic, cover and let them infuse for at least 10 min.

I use this method of preparation as a lovely side dish and for most of my asparagus recipes like risotto, spaghetti, and beef. I also chop them, mix them with equal weight of fresh ricotta and a couple of tablespoon grated Parmesan to use as a filling for ravioli or as a spread on crostini.

The picture below has nothing to do with the recipe. Its an Apsara, a heavenly dancer I got to know about during our winter trip in Cambodia. It’s just that I have this crazy name association between their name and my favorite vegetable. It’s becoming an obsession, but I promise, no more asparagus until next year!

An Apsara, a heavenly dancer of Hindu Mithology


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quick terrine a l’Italienne

galantina, a favorite holiday recipe of our family, quick, easy and delicious

GALANTINA. This is one of those recipes for which I’ll be grateful forever. It’s easy to make, can be prepared in advance, it’s a crowd pleaser and – with the appropriate presentation – it’s actually quite fancy, great for parties and holidays.

My mum called this dish galantina, but technically speaking this is a terrine . A galantine is made by stuffing de-boned fowl with a mixture of meat, eggs, spices. It’s then poached and served cold in aspic. It’s an ancient dish probably developed to use and add flavor to inferior cuts of meat. A similar preparation is mentioned as early as the 4th century AD  in the bible of aristocratic Roman cuisine, De Re Coquinaria.

A terrine is basically a galantine without the bird outside. Terra means Earth in Latin. The name terrine derives from the earthenware pot used to cook the stuffing.

This is a relatively light terrine baked in a loaf mold with no lining of fat, nor marinades or weighing after cooking. Simple, Italian style.

Recipe

  • 200 gr (1/2 lb) each lean pork, veal, turkey breast
  • 100 gr (3.5 oz)  each mortadella (the real Italian one, not bologna), cured ham, grated Parmesan
  • 2 eggs and one yolk
  • salt, pepper and nutmeg
  • a 1.3 lt. (5-cup) terrine mold or loaf pan

Find a kind butcher. Ask him to grind all the meats together. Alternatively buy ground meat and chop ham and mortadella very finely.

Preheat oven at 180 °C (350 °F).

Mix the ground meats, eggs, Parmesan, a pinch grated nutmeg, a sprinkle of black pepper and 1 teaspoons salt in a large bowl.

Butter generously a terrine or loaf mold. Fill terrine evenly with ground-meat mixture, making sure it is compact. Cover the terrine tightly with a double layer of foil.

Place it in a deep roasting tin, then pour around enough just-boiled water to come halfway up. Bake in the oven for about 1 1/2 hours or until a fine skewer inserted into the centre comes out hot and the juices run clear.

Take the terrine out of the bain-marie and leave to cool at room temperature for 3–4 hours. If you need to keep it, chill it before slicing for up to 2 days.

Cut in 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick slices. I always serve them on an oval plate surrounded by spoonfuls of lovely peas and ham.

Makes 24 slices, serves 8.


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meat and spinach cannelloni

authentic Italian cannelloni, a feast

Warning: mistreated recipe! If you have any intention of using those chewy curly no-boil lasagna,  lumpia/wanton wrappers, manicotti tubes, tortilla, frozen crepes or other horrors please don’t even read this recipe. In fact, you might want to go out for dinner or make mac n’ cheese.

Like lasagna, this is a labor-intensive pasta recipe. It’s a dish of sublime goodness which deserves to be revered and prepared with loving care for the appropriate (grand) occasion. The effort will be totally worthy, I promise you.

The success of this dish is based on high-quality ingredients, a restrained amount of sauce, a relatively dry but wonderfully savory filling. By the time it is ready to eat, the pasta should remain al dente.

Recipe

  • 700 gr (forty 6- by 4-inch) fresh pasta rectangles or thin dry lasagna noodles
  • for soffritto: 1 onion, 1  celery rib, 1 carrot, all finely chopped
  • 700 gr (1.5 lb) good quality ground red meat. I use a mixture of pork and beef.
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 200 gr (7 oz)  sliced ham, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 500 gr (1 lb.) fresh spinach, blanched, dried and chopped
  • 60 gr (2 oz) finely grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano plus two tablespoon for sprinkling.
  • 350 gr mozzarella or mild cow’s-milk cheese, sliced
  • 2/3 cup Bechamel sauce
  • 1.5 lt (6 cups) basic tomato sauce flavored with a handful of basil leaves

Schedule:

  1. Make tomato sauce and Bechamel
  2. Blanch spinach
  3. Slice ham, cheese and soffritto vegetables
  4. Make filling
  5. Blanch pasta sheets
  6. Assemble the cannelloni (see the full process here)
  7. Bake

If you use your own pasta sheets you will need to triple my basic pasta dough recipe. Make them the day before, let them dry completely, covered with a thick kitchen towel so they will not curl up and break.  Storing at room temperature is OK for one day, otherwise freeze the individual sheets and keep in a freezer box until needed.

As an alternative buy the thinnest possible lasagna noodles. Preparing the tomato sauce and blanched spinach in advance also helps with time management.

To make filling:

In a shallow heavy-bottomed pan saute onion, carrot and celery with two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. This is called a soffritto. When the vegetables are translucent, increase heat, add ground meat and saute quickly until just starting to brown. Deglaze with white wine, season with salt, nutmeg and black pepper and set aside to cool.

In a food processor, pulse ham, spinach and grated Parmesan until finely ground. Add to cooked ground meat together with 2-3 tablespoon tomato sauce. Do not use frozen spinach, they tend to retain too much water. If the filling is too moist the cannelloni will fall apart during cooking.

To assemble the cannelloni:

Bring a large pot of salted water to rolling boil, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Boil pasta 10 pieces at a time in a large pot, stirring lightly to separate, until just tender, about 1/2 minute for fresh pasta or about 3 minutes for dry noodles. Drain in a colander. Using thick rubber gloves gently transfer the pasta sheets on a clean work-top and lay them flat to cool. Preheat oven to  200 °C (400°F).

Spread about 2 tablespoon filling in a line along the diagonal of 1 pasta rectangle, top with a slice of mozzarella…..

homemade lasagna sheets used for cannelloni ready to be rolled

……then roll up to enclose filling.

cannelloni rolled nice and tight, ready to be placed in a baking dish

Transfer them to a baking dish arranging snugly in 1 layer. Spread cannelloni with a thin layer of tomato sauce, drizzle with Bechamel and sprinkle with 2 tablespoon  grated cheese. Bake in the middle of the oven until the sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes.

Let them stand 5 minutes before serving. Cannelloni are  ideal to serve a crowd, each piece just lifts out of the baking dish in a perfectly sized portion. In addition they can be frozen uncooked. Just make sure to thaw them completely before baking.

Serves 12-15.

heaven in a roll


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sformato di carciofi

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.


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tagliolini with almond pesto and broad beans

tender broad beans, a spring delicacy

tender broad beans, a spring delicacy

TAGLIOLINI WITH PESTO AND BROAD BEANS. Umbrians love broad beans, fave. As soon as it’s spring, crates of the long green pods start to appear in markets and shops. Those who are lucky enough to have a vegetable garden will pick the young and tender ones and give bagfuls to their neighbors as a gift. The fave are eaten fresh, just out of the pod, often accompanied by a slice of young pecorino cheese.

Spring basil is tender and flavorful enough to make a pesto, either “alla genovese” with pine nuts (pignoli) or with almonds and ricotta like I do here. Summer basil would of course be much better for the pesto but then the fave are finished!

Recipe

  • 200 gr (7 ounces) dry egg tagliolini (very narrow fettuccine)
  • 200 gr (1 cup) broad beans (yields 6 tablespoon shelled broad beans)
  • 1 garlic clove very finely minced
  • grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
  • 2 tablespoon ricotta (optional)

For pesto:

  • 1 bunch of fresh basil leaves, about 4 tablespoon
  • 2 tablespoon chopped almonds or pine nuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon EVO oil

If you buy fresh fava beans on the pod, you will need about  1/2 kg (1 lb) per person. Blanch broad beans in boiling hot water for 5 min or until some of the skins start to split. Drain and refresh under cold water. Remove shells. This will take some time but brings the dish from ordinary to quite amazing. Reserve.

To make the pesto I just blitz all ingredients in a bowl using an immersion blender. If you are a purist however, please make it with mortar and pestle. Make sure to make the pesto at the last possible moment before using it in the sauce. This way the pesto does not oxidize and as a consequence all flavor is retained. While making the pesto, cook the tagliolini in plenty salted boiling water according to package instructions.

In a pan large enough to hold all the pasta, saute 1 clove garlic in olive oil until fragrant, about 30 sec. Add broad beans and cook briefly to infuse them in the garlic oil. Take off the heat and add 2 tablespoon pesto and two tablespoon ricotta (if using).

Drain the pasta reserving 1/3 cup pasta water. Transfer the pasta in the pan that holds the sauce on high heat. Add some pasta water and quickly stir so that the sauce is partly absorbed by the pasta. Serve immediately with grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese.

Serves 2

the delciate texture of egg tagliolini is perfect for this light sauce

the delicate texture of egg tagliolini is perfect for this fragrant sauce


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fettuccine al limone

ingredients for a lemon butter sauce

simple ingredients

FETTUCCINE IN A LEMON BUTTER SAUCE. There are days when having a good dinner it’s easy. Being a diligent cook, you will have  some homemade fettuccine stashed in the freezer. OK, store bought ones is fine but of the fresh type, please! Now open the fridge and look for the following:

Recipe

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon heavy cream
  • 1 inch-long strip lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the butter, zest and juice in a little pan over low heat until the butter is melted. Add cream but do not cook it.

slowly melt the butter

slowly melt the butter

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to package instructions. Fresh fettuccine should cook no more than 1 min, 2 min if frozen.

Strain away the water using a colander and return the noodles quickly to the hot pan on medium heat. Add the sauce and briefly stir.

Add the Parmesan and a couple of tablespoon of pasta water and stir some more until the liquid is absorbed.  Serve  immediately, it must be eaten very hot.

so easy, so good

so easy, so good


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polpettine di maiale

tiny pork meatballs, a staple of our family

tiny pork meatballs, a staple of our family

PORK MEATBALLS. This is our family’s recipe beloved by old and young.  For parties, I make them small like a walnut and fry them in olive oil , they make great finger food. In any case, Italians tend to eat quite small meatballs, shaped in 2 inches wide by 1 inch thick disks. I use finely minced pork neck  which has just enough fat for flavor and texture.

Recipe

  • 300 gr. minced pork
  • 2 tabsp parsley finely chopped
  • 2 tabsp bread crumbs
  • 2 tabsp freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2 tabsp milk
  • 1  garlic clove minced through a garlic press
  • salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Using wet hands, form mixture into small balls (1 inch diam).  Shallow fry or transfer on a baking dish lined with parchement paper and bake at 180 °C  (350° F) until golden. They are good like this in their garlicky crunchiness but you can simmer them 10 min in tomato sauce if you wish. Sprinkle with fresh basil leaves before serving.

Serves 2-3

crunchy yummy meatballs

crunchy yummy and so very Italian

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