madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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broccoli meatloaf

broccoli meatloaf

oh-so-yummy and full of goodness

Every time I make meatloaf I have to think of my friend AnnMarie. A sophisticated American-Italian from New York, she told me that her mum would serve meatloaf only to family.

Apparently she did not consider it presentable to guests due to its lack of elegance. The remark caused a certain level of worry as the dish had been ruthlessly celebrated in my house – and with pride – as one of the best inventions to be placed on a dinner table.

This was a long time ago, more than 20 years. Meanwhile something must have happened as the meatloaf has been voted in 2007 the seventh-favorite dish in the US. Someone must have decided to stop keeping it to themselves.

This is our official family meatloaf, stuffed with fragrant broccoli which  are in season now. You can of course use other veggies like asparagus or green beans. It’s actually a fabulous dish for entertaining as you can prepare and cook it a day ahead.

Slice it one hour before serving and pop it in the microwave for a few minutes just to soften it. Don’t over-warm it though. It will fall apart and lose its good looks.

Recipe

  • 600 gr ( 1.3 lb) minced pork, beef or a mixture of both
  • 120 gr  (1/2 cup) seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 3-4 tablespoon milk
  • half a teaspoon salt
  • a pinch of black pepper
  • 100 gr (3.5 oz) mild cheese like caciotta or provola, diced
  • 60 gr (2 oz)  guanciale (sub. with pancetta if not available)
  • 300 gr broccoli (about 1 small head) cleaned and divided into florets
  • 1  garlic clove, finely minced

Blanch broccoli in plenty boiling water for 5 min. Drain and sauté in 1 tablespoon olive oil and garlic for 1 min or until just fragrant. Season lightly.

Preheat oven at 200 °C (390 °F).

Combine meat, egg, milk, black pepper and salt with bread crumbs. Mix with your hands until the mixture is cohesive.

Butter generously a 1.2 lt (5 cups) terrine or loaf mold. Reserve about 1/4 of the meat and use the rest to fill the bottom and sides of the mould, making a 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick compact layer.  Line the ground-meat case with slices of guanciale (or pancetta) overlapping edges slightly and leaving a 2 cm (1 inch) overhang on the sides.

Note: in a classic French terrine the fat is used to line the mould. In this recipe the fat is used inside the meat case to give flavor to the filling.

Now fill all the rest of the space with broccoli and diced cheese. Press down the filling to avoid gaps. Cover the filling with the overhanging pancetta followed by the rest of the ground-meat. Brush the top layer of meat with a small amount of melted butter and bake uncovered for 40 min or until starting to become golden around the sides.

Cool off completely. Slice and serve as explained above.

Serves 4-6

PS. Please don’t ask me a sauce. If you must have tomatoes, serve the meatloaf with a mound of cherry tomatoes dressed in fruity olive oil piled over toasted crusty bread. Or over mashed potatoes. I promise you, it’s enough for a glorious meal.

the beautiful slices

the beautiful slices


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zucchini and sausage risotto

magical autumnal views from our windows

I am sure there must be an ancient proverb saying: whenever you add a good sausage to your food, it will be delicious. I do apply it with restrain so that I can fit through the doors, but it works every time.

Of course, you will say. You are in Umbria, you worship sausages.

Yes, but there are rules. I don’t buy mass-produced sausages. They are made with inordinate amounts of fat and up to 60% of their weight is water. If you cook those sausages in a pan they will release a puddle of heart-clogging greasy liquid.

I buy sausages from my fabulous butcher Guglielmo whose father actually raises a small number of pigs with proper feed. The sizzling sausages release that mouth-watering BBQ-like aroma wich attracts Google (our dog) from 100 mt away. They have just enough fat to cover the morsels in a thin gleaming coating. A small amount goes a long way and does not deposit so heavily on the hips ;) .

Recipe

  • 300 gr (3/4 lb) fresh sausage. Umbrian sausage is seasoned with garlic and black pepper.
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 3 zucchini, diced
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 lt / 5 cups low-salt chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 small onions, diced
  • 2 cups arborio, vialone nano or carnaroli rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Saute zucchini in 1 tablespoon olive oil until they just start to become golden. Make sure to use a relatively large pan so the zucchini will cook quickly and don’t boil in their own moisture. Add a pinch of salt, one finely minced clove of garlic and a few torn basil leaves, stir quickly and as soon as it is fragrant transfer into a bowl.

Add one additional tablespoon of olive oil to the same pan, one diced onion, 1 teaspoon fennel seeds and the sausage meat torn in small pieces. Sauté over medium-high heat until cooked through, breaking up the sausage pieces with fork, about 10 minutes. Deglaze with 1/4 cup white wine. Switch off heat and keep covered until ready to serve.

Add rice and stir 1 minute. Increase heat, add the rest of the wine and cook until absorbed, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup broth and simmer until liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 4 minutes. After this initial stage you can continue to cook , adding more broth by ladlefuls and allowing liquid to be absorbed before adding more, stirring only after you have added the liquid.

When the rice is tender season to taste. For extra creaminess finish with 1 additional tbsp cold diced butter stirring vigorously. Stir in the zucchini, the sausage, 2 tablespoons Parmesan and once last ladleful of broth. Cover and wait 5 min before serving. Serve, passing the remaining Parmesan separately.

a lovely meal for the first chilly evenings of fall


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cappelletti pasta with kamut

cappelletti, winter delight of every Umbrian home

I have been keeping this post for one of those rare days when I have enough time in my hands. I wanted quiet and concentration to explain in sufficient detail what might be one of the best pasta recipes in the world. To tell you that cappelletti, the Umbrian diminuitive version of tortellini, is pasta Nirvana.

Well. We are snowed in. We have no car because it has seriously broken down just before the storm. Most of Italy is under the snow so the replacement parts will not be arriving for a while. The rare phone call is of friends wanting to know if we are all right. The next shop is 8 km downhill on a windy road presently covered by ice and almost a foot of snow. We are not going anywhere.

The term cappelletti, means little hats. In Umbria they are generally made for Christmas. I know families who make a few thousands of them and keep them in the freezer to enjoy during the winter months. They are better served in a chicken or capon stock. However, I am not opposed to a dressing of truffle shavings in olive oil or a good porcini sauce.

In my quest of wheat free alternatives, I have made these cappelletti  with organic kamut flour also named khorasan. The recipe works as well, if not a little easier, with regular flour. To choose the right type of flour, please make sure to read my flour tips here.

To freeze, place them individually on floured plastic trays until hard, then transfer into sealed bags or tupperwares so you can scoop as many as you need. Boil in plenty stock or salted water for 3 min. slightly less if fresh.

Recipe

For the filling

  • 120 gr / 4 oz. each of ground turkey breast, lean beef and pork
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 60 gr / 2 oz. each charcuterie boiled ham, mortadella, grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • a pinch nutmeg, salt, black pepper

Heat a shallow heavy-bottomed pan, add  two tablespoon olive oil and saute the ground meats on medium-high heat until just starting to brown. If you cook the meat too slowly it will release liquid, loose flavor and feel like sawdust.

Increase heat to maximum, deglaze with white wine, season with salt, nutmeg, a pinch of black pepper and set aside to cool.

In a food processor, pulse the cooked meat, ham, mortadella and grated Parmesan until finely ground.

For the pasta dough:

  • 3 eggs
  • 300 gr kamut flour (khorasan)
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil

Using the ingredients above, make my food processor pasta dough and roll it into thin sheets using a pasta machine. Cover the sheets with a cotton tea towel. Kamut pasta sheets dry quickly and tend to break, so you need to work faster than when using regular flour.

Now follow the instructions in the photo captions below. Click on one of the picture to start the slideshow.

This recipe makes 350 cappelletti. You will need about 25 per person, so you either have a feast or freeze 3 heavenly family dinners for 4 and 1 tete a tete.

kamut cappelletti on the left, wheat cappelletti on the right


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the red wine risotto and how life changes in one day

risotto, the ultimate Italian no-wheat marvel

There are days that change your life.

Have you ever wondered why so much of our lives is spent waiting for a situation to change?

Those days you wait so long for, they finally happen. This – in one or another way – is often a relief. In fact, for a few minutes, even hours if you are lucky, you don’t hang over the unknown. But then, after that fleeting moment, you are looking ahead again. The future with all its needs is calling you once more.

SO THE NEWS is that I have been diagnosed wheat and egg intolerance. I have known for years to be dairy intolerant. I don’t know if I am celiac, I will know it in a few weeks.

In any case for the moment I’ll have no eggs, no wheat pasta, no bread, no butter and cheese.I have been having bad digestion problems for so long that just knowing what I should eliminate from my diet is a relief.

Of course, it does feel like my world has gotten upside down. Me, that one who wanted to convince the world to make their own fresh pasta at least once a week. Me, that one who loves to cook for others, who basically exists on cooking for others.

The good news is that I can still cook for those I love. I’ll just need to make two menus now. And not even every day.

Recipe

  • 500 gr. / 1 lb Italian fresh sausages, grilled
  • 250 ml / 1 cup good quality red wine
  • 1 lt / 5 cups low-salt chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter or EVO oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cups arborio, vialone nano or carnaroli rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan or pecorino shavings
  • 2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Before starting please revise my risotto principles.

Grill the sausages, set aside and keep warm. I use our fantastic Umbrian sausages which are seasoned with garlic and black pepper but I would not be adverse to fennel seasoned sausages.

Make the risotto. In a large pan over low heat,  sauté the onion in butter, EVO oil or a mixture of the two until tender, about 8 minutes. Add rice and stir 1 minute. Increase the heat to medium/high and add 2 tablespoon wine. Cook until absorbed, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Add the rest of the wine, one tablespoon at the time, stirring until it is absorbed.

Now lower the heat  and add 1/2 cup broth and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 4 minutes. After this initial stage you can continue to cook , adding more broth by ladlefuls and allowing liquid to be absorbed before adding more, stirring only after you have added the liquid.

When the rice is tender, but still has a bite, add more salt if necessary, 2 tablespoons Parmesan and once last ladleful of broth. For extra creaminess, add in 1 tablespoon cold diced butter which you need to stir vigorously. Cover and wait 5 min before serving. Serve topped with sliced sausages, a sprinkle of parsley ans shavings of Parmesan or pecorino.

For a dairy-free version omit the cheese and butter and serve with a drizzle of fruity extra virgin olive oil. It will still be delicious!

Serves 3-4


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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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saltimbocca di maiale al Vinsanto

saltimbocca revisited with Umbrian ingredients

PORK SALTIMBOCCA WITH VINSANTO.  The Italian word saltimbocca means “to jump in the mouth”. This is because the meat is cooked so quickly that it will be on  your plate after only a couple of pirouettes in the pan. To cook it with the right speed you will need very thin meat. The result is melt-in-the-mouth parcels that make what  must be the world’s easiest dinner.

There’s endless variations of this recipe. To keep to the deservedly famous original however, please do not overdo. Keep to a minimum of oil and butter.

Use no more than one  sage leaf per parcel, that’s more than enough flavor. You can substitute pork with veal but you’ll never get chicken thin enough. You can substitute Vinsanto with Marsala or white wine but not with lemon juice.

You can substitute guanciale with pancetta, but the guanciale is sublime. There’s no garlic and no tomato (for once). And please, please, please, don’t melt cheese over it!

Recipe

  • 500 gr / 1 pound pork scaloppine, pounded to 1/4-inch thickness
  • 1/4 pound thinly sliced guanciale
  • flour for dusting
  • 1 bunch fresh sage leaves
  • 1 tablespoon butter and 1 olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Vinsanto

Top each slice of meat with 1 slice of guanciale and 1 sage leaf. Fold in two, keeping the guanciale and sage inside, and secure with a small cocktail stick. Dust each parcel lightly with flour (can be also done with gluten-free flour or rice flour ).

Put a large cast iron  skillet over high heat until hot. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in it until foaming. Add oil and  pork parcels in single layer, turning once or twice until golden about 1 min per side. Season with salt and black pepper.

Add wine to pan and deglaze over high heat until liquid is reduced by 1/3, scraping up browned bits, about 2 minutes. Be careful as it might flambe’. Transfer pork to platter, pour the sauce over it, and serve with potatoes cooked in a salt crust and a green salad.

Serves 4-5.

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