Tag Archives: Italian food

FRIED ZUCCHINI BLOSSOMS

$6 bought me eight, precious and wonderful looking zucchini blossoms at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. Not exactly cost-effective if preparing a low-budget meal but I have an incredibly soft spot for zucchini blossoms that I have been eating since I was a child.

Over the years, I have enjoyed them filled with all kind of goodies, from sardines to goat cheese but my first love is simply fried, tempura style. With my  mom in the kitchen, and with frying being one of her specialties, we got to work. Here is the result.

Perfect for an appetizer if you are entertaining, everybody will love the subtle, fresh taste of these blossoms.

RECIPE – Yields: 8 blossoms

8 Zucchini Blossoms

3/4 C AP Flour

3/4 C Sparkling water

1/2 ts Salt

1 ts Olive oil

A/N Canola oil, for frying

  1. In a shallow bowl place the flour and start adding the water, a bit at a time, mixing with a wooden spoon, until you have the consistency of a slush. Add salt and oil. Whisk until smooth.

    Whisk until smooth

  2. Wash the zucchini blossoms with a damp paper towel, being careful not to tear them.
  3. Heat about 1/4” of oil in a frying pan until very hot.
  4. Dip the blossoms, one at a time, in the batter and drop them in the hot oil. Fry them, turning them once or twice, until the batter feels hard and looks deep golden. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on plate covered with paper towels.
  5. Sprinkle some salt on top and squeeze a few drops of lemon and serve immediately.

Eat immediately!

 

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FOUR HAND SONATA

Dinner in Rome

Just because my mother is busy in the kitchen while staying with me for the next two months, it doesn’t mean I eschewed cooking altogether. It’s the first time, in our long and distinguished lives, that we are cooking together. Even as a grown-up, it was always my mom cooking my favourite meals whenever I would visit, with me relishing every bite but keeping my nose out of her kitchen. But with food having played a huge chunk in the last ten years of my life, most of them spent in a professional kitchen, it’s force of habit and, I won’t deny it, pleasure, that will make me shove some cauliflower in the oven just because, or concoct a dessert someone happened to mention.

The result of this tandem culinary activity is a fridge and freezer bursting at the seams, and a series of invitations extended to friends in an effort to consume this edible mound that keeps on growing.

As I observe my mother’s mottled hands as she rolls pasta (with the long rolling-pin she got past US customs) or deftly twirls tortelloni, she quizzes me as to the dressing I whipped up for the salad or will peek into the food processor to inspect my humus. As I try to hold on to or acquire what is second nature to her (rabbit with black olives anyone?), she opens up to new flavors and embraces foods I take for granted, such as guacamole, which she calls “that avocado thing your cousin makes”.

“Which counter do you want?” one of us will ask, as we divide the kitchen, pull out chopping boards and, like last Sunday, at the end of a brief cooking session, we’ll find out we have more food than we can possibly sit down and eat. Not surprisingly, Ottie and Portia are gaining weight at an alarming rate as my mother hasn’t become inure yet to the liquid, pleading eyes that will tactically position themselves either by the stove or the trash can. Whomever still believes dogs don’t have a thinking process of some sort, I beg them to reconsider.

A comment from Aunt Snow, aka the blogger behind Doves Today, on an old, heavy  colander belonging to her grandmother that she recently rescued, made me remember the old kitchen ware that was passed down from my grandmother and still very much in use in my mother’s kitchen as I was growing up: an imperfect and massive scale that my mother revamped by painting red; an ancient wooden coffee grinder with a giant cranking handle and a small drawer for the ground coffee; copper pots of every size, the tiny milk pot banged up beyond recognition – it’s as if the gadgetry of the ’60’s and ’70’s completely bypassed our house, with the only exception of Tupperware. Not much of it has survived and I wish I had squirreled it away when I had the chance. But in my ’30’s, I felt myself and my mother to be eternal and that our house would always be my personal museum.

My mother doesn’t realize how this gift of cooking together is the best 50th birthday present she could have ever given me. I don’t feel eternal anymore and, despite her resilience and endless energy, I can see the stiffness in my her joints. But I am not thinking about it just yet. For now, the rolling and chopping and whirring will go on so that I can pull out lasagna from the freezer sometime in December and remember these perfect Summer days.

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WHOLE WHEAT PASTA WITH SPICY SAUSAGE AND BOK CHOY

When it comes to pasta, I am a bit of a purist. There are certain brands I favour, my cooking time is a strong “al dente”, I hardly ever dream of sprinkling Parmesan over it unless it’s an integral part of the sauce and, until a few years ago, I would never consider any dried pasta that was not durum wheat. I willingly experimented with rice pasta (awful), buckwheat (not so bad), spelt (actually kind of like it) but my biggest innovation in the pasta realm has been whole wheat. I have been eating whole wheat anything for years but, somehow, whole wheat pasta always seemed just not right.

In reality, the slight nuttiness of whole wheat pasta enhances most vegetable dishes, especially those containing green leafy vegetables. I still wouldn’t use it for seafood but for kale, cabbage, zucchini, any pesto, cherry tomatoes…you get the idea…it works really well.

Here is a simple Italian sausage and bok choy recipe.

INGREDIENTS

1 onion, sliced thin

3 bunches of bok choy, cleaned and roughly chopped

1 pound whole wheat pasta

2 links of spicy Italian sausage (about 1 pound)

2 T olive oil

1 T tomato paste

salt a/n

 

Heat the oil in a pan over medium/high heat and add the onions. Cook until softened, a few minutes.

Add the sausages without the casing, a pinch of salt and cook, breaking the meat with a fork, for about 5 minutes or until the sausage is cooked and the onion is slightly browned.

Add the tomato paste and stir. In the meantime, start cooking the pasta in salted, boling water.

 

Add the bok choy and a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. Cook until the greens are wilted. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Drain the pasta and combine it in a bowl with the sauce. Serve with Parmesan if desired.

 

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CALZONE

When sitting down at a pizza joint, I am not likely to order a calzone, essentially a folded pizza, with the filling stashed inside. I like my pizza thin, with crusty borders, and all its goodies in the middle. But, on Sunday night, with extra pizza dough on hand, I fought my slight aversion to calzone and gave it a try.

“Calzone” means trouser in Italian so I am not sure how it relates to folded pizza as it’s more of a pocket. It’s typical of Southern Italy and also called “panzerotto” –  the difference lays in the cooking method: –  calzone is filled and baked in the oven, while the panzerotto is subsequently deep-fried (trust  me, it adds a whole new dimension to fried food…).

For my calzone filling I rummaged in the depth of the fridge where I came across a bunch of spinach and a couple of tomatoes. If you are willing to try, I would suggest more adventurous ingredients or, at least, tastier ones, such as ham or salami, a mixture of cheeses other than mozzarella, sausage or anything else that strikes your fancy.

Start with a pizza dough – you can find mine here

 

I started with putting a bunch of cleaned spinach in a pan with some olive oil and cooked them until wilted.

I then added some chopped tomatoes, chili flakes, salt and pepper and cooked until the tomatoes released their juice.

I rolled the pizza dough as usual and placed th filling on one side, adding fresh mozzarella and a little bit of tomato sauce.

I folded it and sealed the edges with a bit of water. I brushed olive oil on top and baked it in a 500F oven for about 25 minutes.

The end result? Pretty tasty, although next time I would fill it with some meat and stronger cheeses. All in all, though, my regular Margherita pizza still gives me more satisfaction. Some habits die hard…

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ANNAROSA’S SALSA VERDE

Back to my mother. Incredibly, there are still recipes I haven’t had in years that just pop into my mind and start a craving. My father used to love salsa verde, especially with what we call “bollito”, a mixture of boiled meats ranging from chicken to beef tongue. I would’t go near either of them: one was was too lifelike for my taste and the other too green.

Many countries have different variations of salsa verde, mostly parsley based, like the Argentinian chimichurri. I am not sure of the origins of my mother’s recipe but, the moment I remembered it, even though I wasn’t a fan as a kid, I had to have. An intercontinental phone call later, I had the list of ingredients, some of them unexpected.

I served it with fish but it goes well with anything from beef to….boiled tongue.

Start with a bunch of parsley

RECIPE – serves 3 to 4

1 bunch Parsley

1/4 c Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 T Capers

1 T Roasted Pepper, chopped (although I substituted with a fresh jalapeno for some kick)

2 to 3 Sweet and sour Italian onions in a jar – as I couldn’t find them, I caramelized a small, sweet onion

1 Boiled egg

1T Lemon juice

Salt and Pepper

 

My adorable green mixer

  1. Put all the ingredients in a blender or mixer and chop. Now, my mother much prefers to reach the same result with a good knife and a cutting board – she says the mixer makes the sauce too smooth but I felt on a lazy side and I would use any excuse to use my adorable green mixer.

    The egg was the unexpected ingredient

  2. Taste and add salt and pepper and more oil if needed.
  3. Transfer to a bowl and add the lemon juice.

All done

 

 

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FRESH TOMATO PASTA

Right before I dug in

It’s not like the sun is not shining and the temperature not balmy, but the mornings are darker and the days are getting shorter and we have entered Autumn, which makes me feel I need to stock up on the last produce Summer has to offer. Soon tomatoes will be watery and tasteless and the yellow and red grape local variety that beckoned at the market was too good-looking to resist.

Enough of mozzarella, caprese and salads and, for the last of the juicy ones, I reverted to, guess what?, my mother’s method of cooking tomatoes for a simple and delicious pasta.

Halve the tomatoes and chop half a yellow onion very fine. Heat some olive oil in a wide pot, sautee the onions until translucent and then add a smashed garlic clove.

Sweating the onionIn go the halved tomatoes – cook them on medium heat until the juices are released and  the skin is wilted, about 20 minutes. Remove the garlic clove an add salt and pepper to taste.

In go the tomatoes

Cook a pasta shape of your choice in abundantly salted water, drain it and put it  in the tomato pot with a sinful knob of butter. Mix thoroughly until the pasta is fully coated.

Dish it out and finish it with some fresh basil or Parmesan.

 

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A TOMATO BOUNTY – PART II

Tuscan Tomatoes

Upon reading my latest post, my friend N e-mailed me a photo of little cherry tomatoes she recently picked from her aunt’s plant in Tuscany, clearly related to the one on my patio. She cooked them as a variation of the “Oil, Garlic and Red Pepper Spaghetti” recipe which is a staple of Italian peasant cuisine or, in my youth, a staple of 3 in the morning meals after a night of partying, where not much else other than garlic, olive oil and spaghetti can be found in a student’s pantry.

Also perfect for an impromptu gathering.

Cook spaghetti in salted, boiling water. While the pasta is cooking, heat a few tablespoons of good quality olive oil in a pan. Add a couple of cloves of garlic, either peeled and smashed or chopped (depending on how much of a garlic breath you wish for) and sautee them having care not to brown the garlic. Add red pepper flakes to taste, possibly from dried red peppers rather than a jar, and cherry tomatoes.  Cook the tomatoes until they soften but don’t break.

Drain the pasta reserving some of the cooking liquid. Pour it in the pan with the reserved cooking water and mix, adding olive oil as needed.

Serve with an abundant sprinkle of pecorino cheese.

 

 

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