Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pesto flavored cherry tomato tart

Ah, my poor Italian soccer team! Six days ago they were eliminated from the World Cup —which was very sad both because they were the winners of the last edition and because they totally deserved to lose and go home. To add insult to injury, ever since then every team I liked and routed for —the US, Switzerland, England, Mexico, you name it— has been eliminated, while the teams that historically I've never liked —Argentina, just to name one— have advanced to the quarter finals. And since I am a rabid soccer fan, I've seen or at least listen to on the radio to every single game, which means that lately I have eaten in front of the tv quite a lot, washing my meals down with tons of ice cold beer.

I know, I sound like a guy.

Anyways, I've made this the other day and it turned out very good, it has all the elements of pesto, like basil, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese, plus some fresh summer tomatoes which, if you as me, make everything taste better. And since I really don't have anything better to do I even made my own crust. If you want the pesto flavored crust, you'll have to make your own too since it's not sold anywhere. If you don't have time, I guess you can make it with a regular crust and mix some pesto into the filling.


2 cups flour
one bunch of basil
7 tablespoons very cold butter
6 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 clove of garlic
1 /14 cup cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1 lemon
Extra virgin olive oil

Wash, dry and rip the basil into small pieces. Place flour in a food mixer and add a pinch of salt, basil and the butter, cut into small pieces. Pulse until you obtain a crumbly mixture. Add a scant half cup of cold water to the mixture and pulse some more until you obtain a ball of dough. Roll into plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

In the mean time, place tomato halves in a large bowl, season them with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the grated rind of a lemon, sliced garlic and a little salt, and let marinate in a cool place for about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface, prepare a 9-inch baking pan by placing a sheet of parchment paper over it. Lay rolled out dough over it, cover dough with another layer of parchment paper and place a handful of beans over the paper to weigh it down. Place crust in the oven and cook for 15 minutes, then remove beans and upper layer of parchment paper and bake for another 10  minutes. eove from oven and let it cool.

In the mean time mix cream cheese with a little salt, most of the toasted pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and whatever water the tomato mixture has produced while marinating. When the crust has cooled off place cheese mixture in it, top with tomato mixture, sprinkle with salt and pepper and garnish with some more basil and pine nuts.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pasta "fermo degli odori"

So, this pasta has a funny Italian name. Fermo degli odori. The thing here is, the name is kind of funny not only because it's an Italian name. It's funny even for those who speak Italian, because it literally means "stop the flavors". As in "trap the aroma and let it out later, when everyone is there to enjoy it". 
Makes no sense, right?

Well, let me explain.

This pasta is so easy to make, it's almost a joke, yet it never fails to impress whoever you make it for both because it tastes fresh and wonderful and because it has a certain dramatic flair to it, something that makes people ohhhh and ahhhh kind of like when you flambe crepes suzette in front of them. Only difference is that with this pasta you don't even have to set anything on fire and you don't have to worry about burning your hand. 
The only thing you need to make this pasta is a serving bowl with a tight fitting lid. Or a big pot with a tight fitting lid. Or whatever you can think of with a tight fitting lid. The concept is very easy: take a bunch of fresh herbs —pretty much whatever grows in your garden— mince them with some garlic, place them on top of cooked noodles and some room temperature tomato puree... and then pour boiling hot extra virgin olive oil on it. Place the lid on your bowl right away, bring it to the table and, with the appropriate dramatic flair, remove the lid. The aroma of the herbs and garlic scorched by the hot EVOO will fill the room within seconds and, I guarantee this, everyone at the table will ohhh and ahhh even before they taste the pasta. Which, incidentally, is also something to ohh and ahh about.

Serves 4

1 pound spaghetti or short pasta if you prefer
2 cups tomato puree, brought to room temperature and seasoned with salt
A bunch of mixed fresh herbs (I used rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme and chives)
2 large garlic cloves
Crushed red pepper
3/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Cook pasta according to directions.

Mince all the herbs and garlic together, and season with crushed red pepper.

In a small pan heat up the oil so it's very hot but not smoking.

Prepare your serving bowl with the tight fitting lid by warming it up in the oven. When pasta is ready place it in the bowl, top with the tomato puree and sprinkle the herb mixture on top. Pour very hot oil over it and cover the bowl with the lid immediately. Bring to the table, remove lid, smell the wonderful aroma wafting through the room, then stir the pasta until is well mixed and serve.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pork chops pizzaiola style

 Just to prove to myself and to the rest of the world that I can indeed cook something other than seafood, I made some good pork chops the other night, as I continued watching the World Cup on tv. This recipe was supposed to be made with veal chops, but since I had pork in the freezer I decided it would do. And it did. Quite nicely too.

See, one of the trickiest things about living 5,000 miles away from your boyfriend —apart the obvious ones— is to cook for one. For years I've been used to cook for two which, with his appetite, meant cooking for three or four really. And for all those years I considered cooking just for myself a real drag, which meant that, if I were alone for the night, I'd eat crap standing in front of the fridge, as my dad would say, like a savage. But now things are different. With the prospect of eating in such manner for three months, I decided that cooking for one isn't that much of a waste of time after all. So I started cooking recipes I would normally cook if Tommy or if a guest were here and, guess what? It was a great idea. I mean, if you are eating all alone, in front of the tv, talking to the cat like a lunatic, you might as well do it in style and eat something good, right?

Hence this recipe. "Pizzaiola" in Italian means "pizza-man style" and refers to pretty much anything that is prepared with tomatoes, oregano, capers and anchovies. I used fresh oregano from my miniature garden, which of course made me very proud not only because I have a mini garden, but also because I haven't killed everything in it... yet. If you don't have fresh oregano leaves on hand, use dried. It works almost just as well. 

Serves 4:

4 bone-in pork chops
Salt and pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 anchovy fillet
3 tablespoons capers
3 cloves of garlic, minced
Fresh oregano
Extra virgin olive oil

Heat up a little olive oil in a large frying pan. Season chops with salt and pepper and sautee them in the pan until browned on both sides. Keep warm in the oven.

In the same pan, add garlic and sautee for a couple of minutes, without  burning it. Add tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, add oregano and cook for a couple of minutes.

Add anchovy and break into the sauce using a wooden spoon. Put chops back into the pan , add capers, let the chops warm up for a minute and serve immediately.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pasta with shrimp, zucchini and saffron

What did I tell you about being on a fish kick? I mean, I seriously can't stop eating the stuff. And that's crazy because I've never been a seafood person. And yet, all of the sudden, all that I crave is shrimp, sole, tilapia, salmon... you name it. I'm not complaining, mind you. For once I crave something that is good for me, so I'm going to ride this wave until it lasts. Because I'm sure that, come the cold weather, fish will go back to being one of my least favorite things to eat. But for now with the temperatures rising and the sun (almost) always shining I'm eating all the seafood that I can.

I made up this recipe the other night, using stuff that I had leftover from making my branzino tartare. I still had some baby zucchini and their blossoms, I had tomatoes... and I had some pretty plump Atlantic shrimp tails I wanted to use. So I thought, why not making a nice pasta with all this great ingredients? I cut the zucchini into matchsticks, minced their blossoms, cubed the tomatoes and, at the very last moment, I decided that saffron would go well with the dish and cooked the noodles in water and saffron instead of plain old water. Even if I say so myself, it turned out divine. The saffron flavor was subtle, but definitely there, and it let the shrimp and zucchini really shine through. It was an experiment, but I can't wait to make it again when I have company.

Serves 4

1 pound spaghetti
36 large shrimp tails, peeled and deveined
8 baby zucchini and their blossoms
2 large very ripe tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Dry white wine
2 packets of saffron powder
Salt and pepper

In a large dutch oven bring water to a boil. Add some rock salt and saffron. Cook noodles according to directions.

In the mean time, cut zucchini into matchsticks, mince the blossoms and cube the tomatoes. Heat olive oil in a large pan, add shrimp and sautee for a couple of minutes. Add prepared vegetables, add a little wine, season with salt and pepper and cook for a few more minutes, until shrimp changes color.

When noodles are cooked, drain, reserving some of the saffron water. Place noodles in the pan with shrimp and vegetables, toss well to mix, adding some of the saffron water if needed. Serve immediately.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Branzino tartare with zucchini blossoms, basil and tomato

One of the most exciting things I'm experiencing now that I moved back to Italy is the diversity of ingredients. Every time I go to the grocery store, there's a plethora of vegetables, proteins, grains, and so on, that in the last few years I couldn't find in Florida. Point in case: this very recipe contains not one but two ingredients that were pretty much impossible to find in Naples. Branzino, also called Mediterrenean seabass has little to do with its bigger Atlantic counterpart and is the living proof that bigger isn't always better. Au contraire, sometimes small things are packed with more flavor and tenderness than bigger ones. Baby zucchini and zucchini blossoms were available in Florida for about two weeks each year, so you can easily imagine how high their price was.

Not here. Both branzino and zucchini blossom are readily available, and with price tags that didn't make me weep. They made me smile.

But there's another exciting thing I'm experiencing right now that almost makes me more excited than food: watching the soccer World Cup... in a country that really cares for soccer. Because there are only a few things that are more Italian than soccer, or watching soccer for that matter. And especially watching the World Cup, which is one of the few times when Italians come together and cheer for the same thing —namely the Italian team. I have many funny, sad, exciting and boring stories about the past World Cups and about me watching them, and I will tell you all of them in the next 30 days. But for now, I want to leave you with a recipe that kind of brings together two of my biggest passions, two things that really don't go well together: soccer and fine cuisine. So what does a fish tartare have to do with soccer, you may ask? Well, look at it. You will notice that this dish has the colors of my flag —red, white and green. Go Italy!


Serves 4

3/4 pounds Mediterranean seabass, minced
6 baby zucchini with their flowers
A handful of basil
1 lime
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 tomato, cubed
Salt and pepper

Mince zucchini flowers, , wash the zucchini and cut into small cubes.

Thinly slice shallot and soak in cold water for about 10 minutes. Drain, dry and place into a blender with a little olive oil, salt to taste, juice of a half lime, a handful of fresh basil and few drops of Tabasco.

Mix the minced seabass with the cubed tomato, zucchini and their flowers. Season with salt and pepper and season with the sauce you made in the blender. Shape using a mold and enjoy immediately.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sole with cannellini in aromatic tomato broth

My grandma was famous among relatives for many things —her wonderfully fluffy gnocchi, her impatience, her love for books—but one of the things I remember the most about her is the fact that, in the kitchen, she would always go through "phases". For a few months, sometimes for a few years, she would make a certain dish on a weekly basis. Everyone loved it. Everyone always asked for second helpings. And then, all of the sudden, she would stop making it altogether. The dish was never again to be seen on her dining table and if people asked about it she would go as far as saying that she had never cooked such a dish before. 

I'm not that bad, but I have to admit that I, too, go through some phases when I get a kick out of cooking a certain ingredient or a certain type of dish. Right now I'm on a seafood kick and, without even noticing, I've packed my fridge and freezer with shrimp, sea bass, sole and the likes. Not bad for someone who grew up despising any fish that wasn't prepackaged breaded cod fingers. This sole I made last night is a very simple yet delicious meal —sophisticated enough for company and very satisfying to eat even by yourself, like I did.
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 4

Extra virgin olive oil
4  sole fillets
Salt and pepper 
2  garlic cloves, minced
2  cups  chopped plum tomato
1 1/2 cups broth
1/2  cup  dry white wine
1  (16-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2  teaspoon  chopped fresh rosemary

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle fish evenly with salt and pepper. Add fish to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness. Remove fish from pan; keep warm. Add garlic to pan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in tomato, broth, wine, and beans; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in rosemary. Serve immediately.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Potato and arugola salad

Remember about a month ago, when I was talking about the rain and the low temperatures? Well, that's definitely all gone and forgotten. Summer, my friends, is here. Needless to say, the same people that were complaining about the chill and the rain are currently busy bitching about the heat because, apparently, absolutely nothing will make them happy. The temperatures, by the way, are not even that high yet. And at night it's breezy and downright perfect. Seriously, people, don't you have better things to complain about?

As for me, I'm loving every minute of it. Summers in the city have always been my thing. Eating gelato every afternoon. Vowing to try new flavors, but always ending up getting strawberry and yogurt. Picking the sidewalk that's in the shade. Stopping under a tree to take a break from the sun. Sitting at outdoor bars and restaurants, drinking chilled white wine or draft beer. Ordering iced espresso at the end of the meal. 

But most of all, what I enjoy about summers in the city is the idea that —if you want— you can leave it behind and go to the beach, to the lake, to the mountains. Milano has many flaws and one great asset among others: it's close to everything. In under two hours, driving on nice wide highways, you can immerse yourself in whatever scenery your heart desires. Everyone you know has a vacation home close enough to the city that you can consider going there just for the day, to spend a lazy Sunday away from the noise and chaos. Which is exactly what we all do on summer weekends and holidays. We go to someone's house, we cook, we drink, we play Trivial Pursuit laying in the grass, belly up, digesting our lunch in the shade. That's what we did on June 2nd, the day of the republic, a holiday that is perfect for grilling and chilling with friends. I prepared many dishes for the occasion, but the biggest hit of the day definitely was the potato salad, which doesn't surprise me because who doesn't love potato salad? And this one, coming from the June issue of Cooking Light magazine, is especially good because it has no mayo in it. Which means that, on a hot summer day, you don't have to freak out and wonder if the mayo is going bad and if you'll poison your guests.  

Adapted from Cooking Light
2 pounds yellow potatoes cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup  extra-virgin olive oil
1/2  cup  finely chopped red onion
1 1/2  tablespoons  white vinegar
4  teaspoons  stone-ground mustard
1  teaspoon  grated lemon rind
1  teaspoon  fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
2 1/2  cups  loosely packed arugula

Place potato pieces in a medium saucepan; cover with cold water, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and gently simmer 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Drain potatoes.

Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Combine onion, vinegar, mustard, lemon rind, lemon juice, salt, and black pepper in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Gradually add remaining oil, stirring constantly with a whisk until combined. Drizzle dressing over warm potatoes; toss gently to coat. Cool completely.

Add arugula to potato mixture; toss gently. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Zucchini, cheese and chive quick bread

I think that, by now, you all know that recipes that contain yeast and I don't get along. Yeast and I are both temperamental and moody, which isn't a good basis for a solid, loving relationship. Problem is, I love bread. Even bigger problem is, I hate making it. Because it never turns out right. Because the dough doesn't double in size. Because it ends up being either wet in the middle or burnt around the edges. Or both. Because I'm that good.

So usually I don't make bread —I just buy it.

Lately, though, I've been dreaming about making my own bread, mostly because I see that around the blogosphere everyone is doing it and, as my parents would say, when you see that everyone is jumping off the bridge I suddenly want to do it too. Also, I'm still unemployed, living by myself —although temporarily— for the first time in six years, which means that I have a whole lot of freaking time on my hands. I'm being honest here: if I had a job or if my boyfriend wasn't 5,000 miles away I'd never even think of making bread. I'd go to the store and buy it because I'd have much better things to do than battling with yeast to make my own loaf of crunchy goodness.

But I'm jobless and Tommy, for the time being, isn't here, so I find myself with plenty of free time and nothing to do. Which makes me kinda crazy I guess since, lately, I have found myself doing crazy, out-of-this-world shit such as ironing my clothes, watching tv and, you know it, baking my own bread.


2 2/3 cups all purpose flour
3 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons minced fresh chives
2 zucchini, grated
2 handfuls fresh basil leaves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl beat the eggs with milk and oil. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, the cheese, the herbs and grated zucchini. Season with salt and pepper, and mix well. Pour dough into prepared loaf pan.

Bake for about one hour.


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