madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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how to cook artisan polenta (with sausages)

creamy and comforting, stone ground polenta with a pork sausage ragu

creamy and comforting, stone-ground polenta with a pork sausage ragu

Quick? Did I say quick?

No, I didn’t.

I do however say divine, comforting, luscious, creamy, heart warming.

Making a good polenta is a bit like making love. Slow and careful is generally better than plasticky and prepackaged. Tubes are for losers. I mean, polenta tubes. I hate them, they taste like soap.

I do occasionally use instant polenta as an emergency gluten-free meal. However, once you try the rustic, custardy flavor of organic stone-ground polenta there’s hardly a way back.

You will say:  it takes at least 40 minutes! I have lost count of the times I have heard “I don’t make real polenta because I have to stand forever by the stove “.

The truth is that with a bit of planning you can have a life and get two dinners out of it. I always cook twice as much so I can make baked polenta with the leftovers. It’s delicious and freezes well.

To minimize the chance of polenta sticking to the pan and therefore the continuous stirring, you need a tall pan with a heavy bottom. You also need to cook it over the lowest possible heat. Use a heat diffuser if your stove is too hot.

This way you need to stir it every 5-10 min which allows you to clean the kitchen, do laundry, make phone calls, play with FB, anything which would keep you home on a rainy evening. Even better, make a party of it. Polenta is ideal to feed a crowd and even your most clumsy non-cooking friend can take care of it.

Polenta with sausages

From top left: soffritto, sautee sasages, deglaze, add tomato and herbs, add salt and water to polenta, simmer, polenta before cooking (watery) and after (creamy)

 

Recipe

  • 400 gr (approx 1 lb) coarse polenta cornmeal, organic and stone-ground if possible.
  • 10-12 sausages (Umbrian sausages are flavored with garlic and black pepper, but the classic Italian style fennel sausages would be acceptable)
  • 1 each of the following: onion, carrot, celery stick, fresh bay leaf, sprig of rosemary, clove
  • 1/2 cup red or white wine
  • 3 lb canned peeled or crushed tomato
  • grated pecorino or Parmesan to taste
  • good quality, fresh and peppery olive oil

Make the sauce:

Using a pan which can accommodate the sausages in a single layer, saute onion, celery, carrot and sausages in 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. When the sausages start to brown, deglaze with wine.

I generally use white wine but in the picture above you can see that I have used a generous amount of red wine. This is simply because today I had a bottle which had been open for a couple of days and needed to be finished.

Note that red wine makes your sauce more acidic so you might need to correct it with 1-2 teaspoon sugar. This is generally not necessary if you use white wine. Just taste your sauce before serving to make sure.

Once the wine is evaporated add tomato, bay leaf, clove and a sprig of rosemary bound with kitchen string. Simmer over very low heat for at least 1 hour or until thick and velvety.

Make the polenta:

You need approx 1 lt (1 quart) water per 100 gr (3.5 oz) polenta. Mix the polenta meal with 2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 lt ( 2 cups) water at room temperature. This will soften the polenta and will avoid lumps.

Bring to the boil the rest of the water (3.5 lt / 14 cups) in a large pot then reserve 2-3 cups of it in another container. Different brands of polenta will absorb different amounts of water so you might not need it all. Pour the softened polenta in the boiling water, lower the heat to minimum and cook for 40-50 min. Stir as explained above, making sure to scrape the bottom and corners of the pan. If the polenta becomes too thick before 40 min add the reserved warm water by the cupful so it will not stick to the bottom of the pan.

The polenta is ready when it comes easily off the sides of the pan. This might not be clear the first few times you make it, so please taste it which will also help you to decide if you need more salt.

Serve:

Ladle the polenta into deep bowls, cover with a generous layer of sauce, one or two sausages, a drizzle of a fruity/peppery extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan or Pecorino.

Leftovers:

Keep the polenta covered while you have dinner. If it becomes too cold it will be difficult to remove it from the pan. Transfer the leftover polenta in an oiled baking dish. Top with leftover sauce, sliced sausages and sliced mild cheese as mozzarella or caciotta. You can also add sautee mushrooms or a few handfuls of cooked, chopped spinach. Sprinkle with more grated cheese and put away or freeze for another dinner. When needed, bake at 200 °C/390°F for 30 min or until lightly golden on top. Defrost before baking.

Baked leftover polenta a great dinner made with no efforts!

Baked leftover polenta a great dinner made with no efforts!

Serves 8 or makes 2 dinners for 4.


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gluten free ravioli

they look like the real thing, don't they?

they look like the real thing, don’t they?

There is so much good food to discover and enjoy.  A lifetime is not enough to fulfill this scope. Even though I have food intolerance, I love to make food for others. I make all sorts of foods, even those I can’t eat and I do it with joy.

In fact – probably more than others – people with intolerances know that having good, fresh, healthy food is a privilege, something to treasure and respect every day.

When I first wrote this article, over 3 years ago, I had lots of digestive issues but I did not know I was wheat intolerant. I made these for someone who wanted to attend to one of my cooking classes and watch others making ravioli without being able to eat them. “No my dear – I said – you also must eat”.

Years later and after a lot of pondering, mistakes and experiments, I have come to accept that I’m among the many that can’t eat wheat anymore. It’s OK really, there’s lots of wonderful food to be had.

Now that I start to know a new way of cooking – gluten-free cooking – I can have as much pasta as I want, just like before. And make it for others. None can stop me, not even the gluten.

Recipe

for ravioli

  • 200 gr (7 oz) gluten-free cake mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon (6 gr) psyllium husks
  • 1 teaspoon (4 gr) xanthan powder

for the filling

  • 120 gr. (4 oz) spinach or swiss chard
  • 60 gr (2 oz) ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan or pecorino

For the filling, blanch spinach or other leaf vegetables in boiling water for 3 min. Drain. Cool under cold water and squeeze very dry. Chop greens finely and transfer to a bowl. Mix in ricotta and grated cheese.

For the dough, you can also use a commercial GF flour. Note that each flour mix absorbs a different amount of liquid, so adjust accordingly. If you use a commercial GF flour mix, omit the xanthan and psyllium as most likely there is already a binding agent in the mix.

You can make gluten-free pasta using approximately the same method of fresh regular pasta (please see pictures here and a video here).  The main difference is that the dough is soft, tears easily and dries very fast so you need to speed up the whole process.

Not only do you need to roll the dough quickly, you must keep the sheets a little thicker than those made with regular wheat dough. If the pasta sheet is too thin it will  tear. When the sheets are ready, make the ravioli as soon as possible. If they dry you will not be able to fold and to seal them.

In a food processor blend the flour, oil and egg until the mixture just begins to form a ball. Depending on the size of the egg, it might be necessary to add a little hot water in order to obtain a soft but not sticky dough. Transfer the dough onto a worktop but keep it covered under a plastic bowl.

Set the rollers of a pasta machine on the widest setting. Cut a golf-ball size piece of dough and  flatten it quickly into a square with a rolling pin.  Feed it through the rollers. Fold the square in half and feed it through the rollers again to give it a regular shape.

Each time you fold it, dust with rice flour to prevent sticking. Don’t overwork it or it will start breaking apart.

Turn dial down to an intermediate (narrower) setting, dust with rice flour and feed the dough through rollers without folding. See details on how to do with the machine settings in the pasta dough article.

Turn the dial one last time, reducing the space between the rollers until the second to the last of the narrowest settings. Roll one last time.

Cover the sheets with a cotton tea-towel to prevent drying. Arrange a sheet of pasta on a large wooden board. Place teaspoons of the filling about 5 cm (2 inches) apart on the sheet so that you can make a “parcel” by folding it over.

spoon filling on the pasta sheets, make sure to leave enough space to seal

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.

a zig-zag cutter is essential to seal the ravioli

Cook in salted, boiling water until al dente, 1 min. Taste them and cook max. one additional minute if necessary. GF pasta dough overcooks easily so you must be careful. Drain and toss ravioli with butter and lemon or a tomato sauce. Distribute onto 2 plates, top with grated Parmesan (or pecorino) if desired and drizzle with a fruity extra virgin olive oil.

Serves 2-3

delicious ravioli made with gluten free flour

delicious ravioli made with gluten free flour


22 Comments

Eggplant Parmigiana

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.

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