Recipes and Ramblings in Italy

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Recipe of the Week (March 4, 2016)

Posted by William Abruzzo on March 5, 2016 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (1)



Crostata di Prugne e' Noce (Rustic Plum and Walnut Tart)

      This week's recipe takes us to the hills of FRIULI-GIULIA-VENEZIA. The small oval-shaped plums known as “Italian Plums” are sweet and flavorful. You can find them in most supermarkets in the United States towards the end of summer. This variety of plum grows throughout northern Italy and neighboring Slovenia and Croatia, where plums are cultivated on a much larger scale to meet the demands for “sljivovica”, a traditional plum brandy. If you travel through the countryside of these regions in late summer, you are sure to see groves of plum trees full of ripe fruit that are shades of deep purple and blue. It is quite a beautiful sight! With firm flesh and soft skin, Italian plums are perfect for baking in a rustic tart called “crostata”. Here is an easy crostata recipe that is sure to please. For a rustic presentation, make an open faced tart by folding the edges up and over the filling. If you prefer, bake the crostata in a pie dish and arrange strips of dough in a fancy lattice pattern on top.

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Ingredients:

 All Purpose Pre-sifted Flour (3 cups)

 Vegetable Shortening (¾ cup)

 Butter (¼ cup)

 Egg (1)

 Salt (1 tsp)

 Cold Water (about 2/3 cup)

 Italian Plums (2 lbs -about 12 to14)

 Walnuts (1/3 cup chopped)

 Cinnamon (¼ tsp)

 Sugar (¼ cup and 1 tbs)

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        Chop the walnuts. Slice the plums in half, remove the pits, toss them with the cinnamon and ¼ cup of sugar, and set them to the side. Place the flour in a mixing bowl and incorporate the salt. Cut the shortening and butter into the flour and work it with your hands until you achieve the texture of oatmeal. Add the cold water, a few tablespoons at a time, until the dough pulls together into a ball.

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        Next, roll out the dough between sheets of plastic wrap. This will make it easier to transport from your work surface to the baking sheet. Cover your entire work surface with plastic wrap and sprinkle it lightly with flour. Turn the dough onto the wrap, pat it down to 1 inch thickness, sprinkle it lightly with flour, and then cover it with a second layer of wrap. Roll out the dough to just less than ¼ inch thickness and remove the top layer of wrap. Lift the dough using the bottom layer of wrap, turn it on to a lightly greased baking sheet, and then remove the wrap.

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        Arrange the plum halves, cut side up, in a pattern of concentric circles in the center of the dough, staying about 3 inches in from the edges. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts over top, and then 1 tablespoon of sugar. Fold and crease the outer edges of the dough up and over the plums to make a rustic open-faced tart. Place the crostata in a preheat 375 degree oven. After 20 minutes, brush the dough lightly with egg that has been beaten with a splash of water. Continue baking for another 40 to 50 minutes or until golden brown. Serve the crostata at room temperature. Serves 4 to 6 adults.


Cooking Tip of the Week (February 25, 2016)

Posted by William Abruzzo on February 25, 2016 at 12:05 AM Comments comments (3)

In Recipes that Call for Fried Eggplant, Try Roasting it Instead! 

 

       Frying is a common preparation for eggplant. However, the spongy flesh of eggplant tends to absorb much of the oil during the frying process. This means that many eggplant dishes can be greasy. One solution, of course, is to dip the eggplant in a protective coating of egg and breadcrumbs. But what if your recipe doesn’t call for breading? For dishes such as caponata, ratatouille, eggplant rollitini, and spaghetti alla norma (eggplant and tomatoes), roasting is the solution. Here is how it is done.

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       Slice the eggplant lengthwise into½ inch thick pieces, brush them lightly with olive oil and season them with salt and black pepper. Place the eggplant on a baking tray that has also been lightly brushed with olive oil or sprayed with cooking spray. Roast the eggplant in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes and then flip the eggplant and continue roasting for another 10 to 15 minutes or until soft and golden on both sides. Then, cut the eggplant slices into cubes and add them to your ratatouille, dress them with your caponata sauce or toss them with spaghetti and diced tomatoes. You can also leave them whole and wrap them up with ricotta in the center for a delicious eggplant rollitini.

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       Roasting the eggplant is quick and easy, alleviates the mess and hassle of frying, and saves you a whole lot of olive oil. It is also a healthy and delicious way to cook. Roasting allows caramelization which brings out the sweetness of the eggplant and develops its wonderful flavor.


Recipe of the Week (February 18, 2016)

Posted by William Abruzzo on February 19, 2016 at 4:40 PM Comments comments (4)

Crocchette di Baccala (Venetian Potato and Salted Cod Croquettes)

 

 

 


        This week's recipe takes us to the region of VENETO. Cicchetti is a Venetian snack tradition similar to tapas in Spain. After work, Venetians head to the bars to socialize, snack on cicchetti, and have a glass of wine. Typical cicchetti include fried seafood, seafood salads, croquettes, sautéed vegetables, and plates of cured meats, olives and cheese.The varieties are endless. After a long day of sightseeing, hitting a cicchetti bar is a great way to wet your appetite before heading to dinner at one of the seafood restaurants near the Rialto Bridge. Here is a recipe inspired by the tasty croquettes I enjoyed in Venice. They are filled with a mixture of potato, salted cod and spinach. Be sure to fry them until crisp and golden brown and serve them with a glass of Pinot Grigio from the hills of Veneto.

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 Ingredients:

 Salted or Fresh Cod (1lb)

 Grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese (1 tbs)

 Russet Potatoes (2 medium -about 1 lb)

 Spinach (1/3 lb)

 Garlic (2 cloves)

 Green Onions (3)

 Egg (4)

 Breadcrumbs (4 cups)

 Olive Oil (for sautéing)

 Corn Oil (about 2 ½ quarts for frying)

 Black Pepper (to taste)

 Paprika (to taste)

 Salt (to taste)

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         If you are using salted cod, soak it in plenty of cool water for at least 48 hours, changing the water at least 3 times daily. The cod will rehydrate and become soft and pliable. Boil the salted cod for 10 to 15 minutes, depending upon thickness, and then remove it from the pot and set it to drain in a colander. If you are using fresh cod, simply place it in a pot or deep frying pan, cover it with water, season it with salt, and set it on a low burner. Allow the cod to poach for 10 to 15 minutes, depending upon thickness, and then set it to drain in a colander.

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         Meanwhile, peel the potatoes, cut them into ¾ inch cubes, and boil them in lightly salted water until tender. Drain the potatoes in a colander and transfer them to a large mixing bowl with the cod. Crumble the potatoes and cod with a fork and mix them together. Be careful not to over-work the mixture, as the texture should be coarse, not be pasty. Sprinkle the grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese over top and set the bowl to the side.

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         Next, chop the spinach, green onion and garlic. Coat the bottom of a frying pan with olive oil and saute the green onion and garlic until soft. Next, add the chopped spinach and season with salt, black pepper and paprika. When the spinach has wilted, add it to the potato and cod mixture and fold everything together. If necessary, add a few drizzles of olive oil to moisten and re-season with salt and spices.

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        Beat the eggs with a splash of water. Shape the filling into 2 inch diameter balls, dip them in the egg and then dredge them in the breadcrumbs. Heat plenty of vegetable oil in a deep frying pan and fry the croquettes until golden brown. Place the croquettes on paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Serve warm or room temperature with a wedge of lemon. Makes 14 croquettes. Serves 6 adults.


Cooking Tip of the Week (February 8, 2016)

Posted by William Abruzzo on February 10, 2016 at 11:55 AM Comments comments (3)


Grated Lemon Peel Adds Bright Flavor to Any Dish

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      The best citrus in the Mediterranean grows in Italy. The region near Sorrento is famous for its lemons, and Sicily is home to vast groves of orange trees. Italians have learned that the peel of citrus fruits is not only aromatic, but full of bright flavor. Finely grated lemon and orange zest is used as a flavoring agent in many sweet and savory Italian dishes. Stirring the finely grated zest of one lemon or orange into your cake batter will add a whole new dimension of flavor. Try doing it with your favorite cheese, pound or sponge cake recipes. A touch of citrus zest also adds brightness to custard and panna cotta.

 

       In savory dishes, lemon zest can be whisked with olive oil and herbs for a salad dressing or marinade for meat and fish. You can also combine the finely grated zest of 2 lemons with a handful of chopped parsley for a gremolata that can be sprinkled over risotto, pasta, baked or grilled seafood or a classic Osso Buco alla Milanese. In Sicilian cooking, finely grated orange zest, garlic, pine nuts and raisins are added to sautéed vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli for a truly exotic taste sensation. If you want to add zest to a sautéed dish, start by sautéing some garlic and/or onion in olive oil. When the garlic and onion have softened, stir in the zest and then add the rest of your ingredients.


Recipe of the Week (January 26, 2016)

Posted by William Abruzzo on January 25, 2016 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (3)

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Polenta in Forno con Funghi e’ Fontina (Baked Polenta Casserole with Sautéed Mushrooms and Fontina Cheese) 

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This week’s recipe take us to the region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, where the Julian Alps rise above a coastal plain that stretches towards the vast Venetian Lagoon. This area lies northeast of Venice, where corn is an abundant crop on the coastal plains. Here, dried corn is milled into a meal called polenta. The polenta is then turned into a porridge and eaten as a starchy side dish. The polenta can also be cooked firm, spread flat to 1/2 inch thickness, and then sliced into squares.  The squares can then be grilled, deep fried or simply eaten. A bowl of polenta topped with melted cheese or a hearty beef ragu is the perfect meal on a cold winter day in Friuli. Here is a quick and easy recipe that you are sure to love. The polenta is prepared soft and topped with sautéed mixed mushrooms and plenty of creamy, delicious Fontina cheese. Enjoy it with a glass of white Pinot Grigio wine from the mountains of Friuli or a hearty Istrian red.  

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Ingredients:

Olive oil for sautéing

Green Onions 4 (chopped)

Garlic 2 cloves (chopped)

Mushrooms -Cremini, Shitake & Oyster 2 lbs (sliced)

White Wine ¾ cup

Thyme 1 tbs (chopped, packed firm)

Italian Flat Leaf Parsley 1 tbs (chopped, packed firm)

Butter 2 tbs (softened)

Instant Polenta 1 box

Fontina Cheese 2/3 lb (shredded)

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       Coat the bottom of a large frying pan with olive oil, set it on a medium low burner and saute the green onions and garlic until soft. Next, add the mushrooms, white wine and herbs, season with salt and black pepper, turn the burner to medium and continue sautéing until the mushrooms are soft and most of the cooking liquid has been absorbed back into the mushrooms (about 15 -20 minutes). Then, stir in the butter and remove the frying pan from the burner. 

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       Prepare a batch of soft polenta (enough for 4 to 6 individuals) following the instructions on the box. Spoon the polenta into individual, oven-proof casserole dishes, filling each dish about 2/3 full. Then, top with plenty of mushrooms and fontina cheese. If you prefer a crispy topping, sprinkle over some grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Place the casserole dishes in a preheated 425 degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until the fontina cheese has melted or the top is crisp and golden.

Cooking Tip of the Week (January 18, 2016)

Posted by William Abruzzo on January 16, 2016 at 12:05 AM Comments comments (0)


A Few Simple Tips for Prepping Artichokes

 

        Artichokes are available in several different sizes. Globe artichokes can be as large as a softball, whereas oblong Tuscan artichokes are somewhat smaller and baby artichokes are no more than 2 1/2 inches long. Preparing them for your favorite recipes is quite simple.

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       For large globe artichokes : Use a paring knife to remove all of the leaves from the artichokes, and then remove the inner chokes. This will leave just the heart and stem. Then, use a potato peeler to remove the stringy outer fibers of the stems, and cut the artichokes in half.

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       For baby artichokes: Remove the outer leaves until you reach the soft, pale inner cone, and then cut off the top 1/3 of the cone and peel the stem with a potato peeler. If you wish, cut the artichokes in half. As the artichokes are small, the chokes are tender and do not need to be removed.

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        After you prepare the artichokes, be sure to place them in a bowl of cool water acidulated with the juice of one lemon. this will prevent the artichokes from browning. When you are ready to cook them, simply rinse them under cool running water and then pat them dry. 

Recipe of the Week (January 11, 2016)

Posted by William Abruzzo on January 11, 2016 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (4)


Risotto con Calamari (Sauteed Rice with Squid)

  

       This recipe takes us to the region of Veneto. Whenever I travel to Venice, I search out a seafood restaurant where I can order seafood risotto. My favorite is risotto with tender baby squid or cuttlefish. If I am lucky, the chef will prepare it "al nero" or with the ink stirred into the risotto, to make it extra special. Here in the US, whole squid is very difficult to find. It usually comes pre-cleaned, with the ink sac removed. Here is a tasty recipe which calls for pre-cleaned squid. It is a true taste of Venice. Enjoy!

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Ingredients:

Arborio Rice (2 cups)

Pre-Cleaned Squid Tubes and Tentacles (2 lbs)

White Wine (1 ½ cups)

Light Fish or Seafood Broth (7 cups)

Grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese (1/3 cup)

Olive Oil (for sautéing)

Spanish or Vidalia Onion (½ small)

Garlic (3 cloves)

Italian Flat Leaf Parsley (3 tbs -chopped, packed firm)

Butter (4 tbs)

Black Pepper (to taste)

Salt (to taste)

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       First, prepare the squid. Pat the squid dry with a dish towel, slice the tubes into small rings, and place the tubes and tentacles in a mixing bowl. Drizzle the squid with olive oil, season with paprika, black pepper and salt, and toss so that everything is coated. Brush a baking tray lightly with olive oil and spread the squid evenly on top. Roast the squid in a preheated 425 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until firm and opaque.

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      Next, prepare the risotto. Set the broth to simmer in a saucepan. Dice the onion and garlic. Coat the bottom of a deep frying pan with olive oil, set it on a medium low burner, and sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Then, add the rice and continue sautéing for 2 to 3 minutes or until the rice is opaque, stirring constantly. Then, season the rice with salt and black pepper. Next, add the wine ½ cup at a time. Stir constantly and add the next ½ cup after the wine is absorbed by the rice. Continue by adding ladles of hot broth in the same manner, stirring constantly and adding the next ladle after the rice has absorbed the broth.

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       After 20 to 25 minutes, the rice will be tender. Next, stir in the butter, grated cheese, and parsley. Then, stir in the roasted squid. Adjust the consistency to your liking by adding more broth if the risotto is too thick or sautéing a minute longer if it is too thin. Depending upon the tenderness and consistency desired, you may or may not use all of the broth. Transfer the risotto to individual serving bowls and serve hot. Serves 4 adults.


Cooking Tip of the Week (November 23, 2015)

Posted by William Abruzzo on November 30, 2015 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (1)


Don't Throw Out Your Day Old Bread, Make Breadcrumbs Instead! 

        In an Italian kitchen, nothing goes to waste -not even bread that has passed its prime.  Whenever I have day old bread, I throw it into the food processor and grind it into crumbs.  Then, I store the breadcrumbs in a ziplock bag in the freezer.  The breadcrumbs will stay just fine for several months.  I then have them on hand whenever I need breadcrumbs for a filler or wish to add a crunchy topping to roasted vegetables or casseroles.  For a crispy topping simply toss the breadcrumbs with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, fresh chopped herbs, a sprinkle of black pepper and enough melted butter to moisten.  Sprinkle over roasted or steamed vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower or butternut squash, pop in a 425 degree oven for 7 to 10 minutes or until golden and crunchy!   



Recipe of the Week (November 16, 2015)

Posted by William Abruzzo on November 17, 2015 at 1:45 PM Comments comments (2)

Pasticciata di Polenta con Mele (Polenta Casserole with Sauteed Apples, Speck, Fontina Cheese and Crispy Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Topping)

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        This recipe takes us to the region of Trentino Alto Adige where apples and fine cured hams make their way into simple rustic dishes. Here is a polenta casserole that goes well alongside roasted or grilled pork, chicken and sausage. Be sure to make it with crisp fresh apples. The sweetness of the apple pairs nicely with the creamy Fontina cheese and smoked ham. It is something you might find at a trendy osteria in the chic ski resort of Cortina D’Ampezzo or an upscale Italian restaurant in Manhattan. Serve it as an appetizer with a glass of red Barbaresco wine from Piemonte or a red Merlot from Veneto.

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Ingredients:

Instant Polenta (1 batch)

Asiago or Fontina Cheese (¾ lb)

Speck (¼ lb slab)

Grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese (about ½ cup)

Butter (8 tbs)

Apples (4)

Walnuts (2/3 cup)

Spanish Onion (½ large)

Garlic (3 cloves)

Sage (½ tbs -chopped, packed firm)

Cinnamon (½ tsp)

Black pepper (to taste)

Salt (to taste)

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        Prepare a firm polenta following the instructions on the package. Then, transfer it to a baking tray, smooth it to ½ inch thickness, and slice it into 3 inch squares. Toast the walnuts in a preheated 375 degree oven for 5 minutes or until golden. Dice the onion, garlic and speck and chop the sage. Place the butter in a frying pan, set it on a medium low burner, add the onion and garlic, season with black pepper, and saute until soft. Next, add the speck and sage, and continue sautéing for another 2 minutes. Then peel, core and chop the apples, add them to the frying pan with the walnuts and cinnamon, and continue sautéing until the apples are tender, but still firm. If necessary re-season with salt and black pepper.

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        Brush the inside of a 14 by 9 ½ inch baking dish with softened butter. Next, add a layer of polenta, fitting the pieces snugly in the casserole dish. Spoon the apple mixture and all of the sauce from the pan evenly over top. Then, add a layer of asiago cheese and sprinkle with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Tent the casserole with aluminum foil and bake it for 20 minutes in a preheated 400 degree oven. Then, remove the foil, raise the temperature to 450 degrees and bake for another 7 minutes or until the top is crisp and golden. Serve hot. Serves 6 adults.


Cooking Tip of the Week (September 28, 2015)

Posted by William Abruzzo on September 28, 2015 at 6:45 PM Comments comments (1)

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Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Rinds Add Great Flavor to Soups

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       The next time you buy a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, be sure to save the waxy rind!  The rinds are loaded with wonderful flavor that adds complexity and character to any type of soup.  Simply toss the rinds into your soup and let it simmer as usual.  Then, when the soup is done, fish out and discard the rinds.  I store the rinds in a ziplock bag and keep them in the freezer.  They will keep for many, many months.  Then when I need a few, I have them on hand. For a large pot of soup, 2  three by three inch square rinds are sufficient to impart great flavor.  It is a simple trick and a great way to maximize your use of expensive Parmigiano Reggiano cheese!

 

 

Recipe of the Week (August 21, 2015)

Posted by William Abruzzo on August 21, 2015 at 2:25 PM Comments comments (2)


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Giuggiulena (Sesame and Pumpkin Seed Brittle)     

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        This week's recipe takes us to the region of SICILIA. On summer nights, Italians take to the streets for a stroll or “passagiata”. They walk off an evening meal, meet up with friend, or head to a gelateria. It is a wonderful tradition. The best place for a "passagiata" is on the “lungomare”, which is a seaside promenade. All seaside towns have a "lungomare".  Here, you will find plenty of cafes, gelaterias and street vendors displaying piles of roasted nuts, candies, dried fruits and nougat. Sesame brittle is my favorite snack to munch on while strolling the “lungomare” with friends. It’s a crunchy honey flavored candy you will surely enjoy. When I make it at home, I always throw in some pumpkin seeds too! 

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Ingredients:

Hulled Sesame Seeds (1 lb)

Shelled Pumpkin Seeds (1/3 lb)

Sugar (3 ½ cups)

Honey (2/3 cup)

Salt (½ tsp)

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        Toast the sesame and pumpkin seeds in a preheated 375 degree oven for 5 minutes, then give them a stir and continue roasting for another 2 minutes or until golden. Spray an 11 ½ by 17 ½ inch non-stick baking tray with cooking spray and set it to the side. Place the sugar, salt and honey in a large saucepan and thoroughly incorporate them together. Place the saucepan on a medium burner, and stir the sugar mixture constantly with a stainless-steel spoon, scraping it from the bottom of the saucepan.

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        After 10 minutes, the sugar mixture will turn to syrup. Continue simmering and stirring constantly for another 3 minutes or until the syrup turns a medium amber color. Next, remove the saucepan from the burner and gently stir the syrup to remove the air bubbles. Then, quickly stir in the sesame and pumpkin seeds while the syrup is piping hot. Transfer the mixture to the baking tray and spread it to an even ¼ inch thickness. While the giuggiulena is still hot, score it with a knife into 1 ½ inch squares. Allow it to cool completely and then break the squares apart. Makes 50 to 60 squares.


Cooking Tip of the Week (August 10, 2015)

Posted by William Abruzzo on August 11, 2015 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (1)

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Cooking with Black Pepper and Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

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        Salt and black pepper are two basic components that bring life to any savory dish. To put it simply, without these ingredients any savory Italian dish will taste flat. In southern Italy, “peperoncino” or crushed red pepper flakes are also added to savory dishes. Crushed red pepper flakes add “heat”, whereas black pepper adds “bite”. When used together, they add great depth and character to any savory recipe. I always add black pepper and crushed red pepper to a sautéed dish while the onions and/or garlic are sautéing in olive oil. Allowing the spices to fry in the oil helps to develop their flavors and releases their wonderful aromas. It also helps their flavors to permeate throughout the dish.

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         For the best quality and flavor, purchase whole peppercorns and pound them in a mortar.  You can also grind them in a peppermill as needed while you are cooking. Pre-ground or pulverized black pepper will lose its bite as it sits for month after month in your spice rack. Hot dried chilies can also be purchased whole and ground with a mortar and pestle as needed.  


Recipe of the Week (August 1, 2015)

Posted by William Abruzzo on July 31, 2015 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (4)

 

 

Pollo in Forno con Spinaci, Prosciutto e Fontina (Roasted Chicken Breasts Topped with Spinach, Prosciutto and Fontina Cheese)

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        This recipe takes us to the region of EMILIA ROMAGNA. When one thinks of chicken served with spinach, the Italian-American classic “Chicken Florentine” certainly comes to mind. It is a tasty combination of pan sautéed chicken medallions served over a bed of spinach and topped with a cream sauce. Although the name implies that this is the glorious specialty of Florence, it is actually an Italian-American classic. So, when you visit Florence, do not expect to find it a restaurant serving traditional Florentine fare. You will have to search it out on a tourist menu at one of the restaurants near the Ponte Vecchio. This recipe is my take on the classic combination of chicken and spinach. I top boneless chicken breasts with layers of prosciutto, sautéed spinach and fontina cheese and then finish them off with crispy breadcrumbs.

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Ingredients:

Chicken Breasts (8 -boneless, skinless)

Prosciutto (4 ounces -sliced paper thin)

Fontina Cheese (1/2 lb)

Grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese (1/3 cup)

Country Style Italian Bread (4 thick slices)

Olive Oil (for sauteeing)

Butter (1 ½ sticks)

White Wine (¾ cup)

Chicken Broth (about 1 ½ cups - as needed)

Flour (2 tbs)

Spinach (2 lbs)

Garlic (5 cloves)

Spanish Onion (½ small)

Rosemary (1 sprig)

Parsley (3 tbs chopped)

Paprika (to taste)

Black Pepper (to taste)

Salt (to taste)

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        Chop 3 cloves of garlic. Coat the bottom of a large deep frying pan with olive oil, set it on a medium burner and sauté the garlic until soft. Add the spinach and some water which will allow it to steam. Season the spinach with paprika, black pepper and salt, and sauté it until wilted and tender. Transfer the spinach to a colander and gently press out most of the liquid with the back of a wooden spoon. Chop the spinach, place it in a mixing bowl, and stir in the grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

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        Butterfly the chicken breasts, place them cut side up on your work surface and season them with black pepper and salt. Place a layer of prosciutto on top of each chicken breast and then a scoop of spinach. Use a wooden skewer to pinch together the ends of each chicken breast in one spot at the center. Transfer the chicken breasts to a greased baking dish and tent it with aluminum foil. Bake the chicken in a pre-heated 415 degree oven for 40 minutes or until fully cooked.

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        Meanwhile, grate the bread in a food processor, transfer the crumbs to a mixing bowl, toss them with a drizzle of olive oil, and set the bowl to the side. Grate the fontina cheese and set it to the side. Next, prepare the sauce. Coarsely chop the onion, parsley and remaining garlic. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low burner, sauté the onion and garlic until soft, and add the wine and herbs. Simmer for 7 minutes and then remove the saucepan from the burner and set it to the side. Place the flour in small frying pan and moisten it with enough olive oil to create a roux. Set the frying pan on a medium burner, sauté the roux until golden, and set it to the side.

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        When the chicken breasts are done, transfer them to a lightly greased baking tray and top each breast with plenty of fontina cheese and breadcrumbs. Tent the tray with aluminum foil to keep the chicken warm and set it to the side. Next, complete the sauce. Transfer the juices (1 ½ cups) from the baking dish to the saucepan. If there are not enough juices, add some chicken broth. Season the sauce with paprika, black pepper and salt, simmer for 7 minutes, and then strain the sauce through a mesh sieve. Press the aromatics left in the sieve with the back of a wooden spoon to extract all the liquid. Return the sauce to the saucepan, set it on a medium burner, whisk in the roux, and simmer for another 5 minutes, whisking all the while to thicken the sauce.

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        Turn the temperature of your oven up to 475 degrees. Remove the aluminum foil from the tray and set it in the oven for 2 or 3 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the breadcrumbs are golden. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and serve it accompanied by the sauce. Serve hot. Serves 8 adults.

 

 

Cooking Tip of the Week (July 23, 2015)

Posted by William Abruzzo on July 24, 2015 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (1)

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The Dos and Don’ts of Cooking Pasta

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        There are a few simple ways to make sure that your pasta is cooked to perfection. First, always cook your pasta in a large pot with plenty of lightly salted water. If there is not enough water in the pot, as the pasta cooks, the water will become soupy from the pasta starches and it will not cook properly. Bring the water up to a boil before you add the pasta and be sure to stir it well so that the pasta does not stick together or to the bottom of the pot. Once the pasta has been added, continue cooking at a medium boil. There needs to be ample bubbling in the water to keep the pasta moving, but not so much that it will cause the water to froth.

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        The only thing you should add to the pasta cooking water is salt. It will prevent the pasta from tasting flat. Add as much salt as you like to suit your taste. However, the general rule is that pasta cooking water should be lightly salted so that it does not overpower the “condimento” or sauce that you have chosen to dress the pasta. While some cooks suggest adding a drizzle of olive oil to the water to prevent the pasta from sticking, I disagree. Assuming this method is valid, then in theory it should also serve to prevent the “condimento” from sticking to pasta. It only makes sense that if the pasta is coated with a film of oil, then the sauce will not cling to it. Therefore, the better method is simply to stir the pasta frequently.

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        Pasta should be served “al dente” or firm. The best way to tell when the pasta is ready is by tasting it. This is the only way to know for sure whether it is to your liking. Forget about throwing it against the wall to see if it sticks or any other crazy method that you may have heard about. When the pasta is ready, you can use a spider or tongs to transfer it from the pot to a deep frying pan that contains your “condimento”. If you wish, pull the pasta out of the water a minute early and let it finish cooking in the “condimento”. The other option is to strain the pasta in a colander, transfer it to a serving platter and then immediately dress it with the “condimento”. Finally, never rinse cooked pasta under running water. This will remove the natural starches and prevent your “condimento” from clinging to the pasta.   Following these few tips will ensure that your pasta turns out perfect every time. Enjoy!

Recipe of the Week (July 13, 2015)

Posted by William Abruzzo on July 14, 2015 at 9:40 PM Comments comments (4)

 

 

Pure di Ceci con Limone (Chick Pea Puree with Lemon)

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       This week's recipe takes us to the region of Lazio, where the locals add vibrant flavor to their regional cuisine by adding a touch of acidity. Here, a squeeze of lemon or high quality red wine vinegar is added to meats and grilled vegetables. Fresh lemon and egg yolks are the unexpected touches that add bright flavor and richness to this soup. It is a creation of my very own, inspired by the inventive use of these two ingredients in the traditional Roman preparation for lamb, called “Abbacchio Brodettato”. It is a dish that is sure to be found on the table in every Roman home at Eastertime. In Italian, “brodettare” means to thicken a soup or sauce into a stew, and in the famous Roman preparation for lamb, this is done using egg yolks and lemon. That being said, I am always looking for inventive ways to apply traditional Italian cooking techniques or to recreate traditional recipes. So I thought, “Why not add egg yolks and lemon to a simple chick pea puree?” The result of my endeavor was bold and delicious! Proud Roman chefs and traditional home cooks from the countryside of Lazio would certainly approve!

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Ingredients:

Chicken Broth 3 quarts

Chick Peas 5 cans (16 ounces each)

Eggs 10 extra large

Olive Oil to drizzle

Garlic 5 cloves

Lemons 4

Black Pepper to taste

Salt to taste

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       Puree the chick peas and garlic in a food processor with a splash of the broth and a few drizzles of olive oil until smooth and creamy. Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Whisk the egg yolks into the broth and set it on a medium low burner. When the broth simmers, add the juice of 3 lemons, whisk in the chick pea puree, and season with salt and black pepper. Let the soup simmer on a low burner for 10 minutes. Adjust the level of acidity to your liking by adding some or all of the juice of the remaining lemon. Serve hot. Serves 4 adults.  

Recipe of the Week (July 2, 2015)

Posted by William Abruzzo on June 30, 2015 at 10:30 PM Comments comments (2)

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Spaghetti con Fior di Zucchine (Spaghetti with Sauteed Zucchini Blossoms)

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This week's recipe brings us to the region of Lazio, where zucchini blossoms are a springtime treat.  Head to Rome's famous Campo di Fiore outdoor market in April, and you are sure to see fresh zucchini blossoms for sale.  The beautiful orange flowers are a simple and delicious treat. Saute them with pasta, toss them in a frittata or fry them until crisp and delicious.  if they are available in your supermarket, give them a try.  Better yet, grow them yourself!

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Ingredients:

Thin Spaghetti (1 lb)

Zucchini Blossoms, (4 cups chopped, packed firm)

Zucchini (1 small)

Garlic (4 cloves)

Parsley (3 tbsp chopped, packed firm)

Basil (2 tbsp chopped, packed firm)

Olive Oil for sautéing

Black Pepper to taste

Salt to taste

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         Remove the stamens and pistils from the zucchini blossoms and coarsely chop them. Dice the zucchini, slice the garlic and finely chop the herbs. Set the pasta to boil in a large pot of lightly salted water. Coat the bottom of a 5 ½ quart frying pan with olive oil, set it on a medium low burner and sauté the zucchini and garlic until tender. Then, add the blossoms, herbs and a ladle of pasta cooking water. Season with black pepper and salt, and sauté until the blossoms are wilted and tender. When the pasta is al dente, drain it in a colander and add it to the frying pan. Toss everything together. If necessary, add a few drizzles of olive oil to moisten and re-season with salt and black pepper. Serve hot, topped with grated Pecorino Romano cheese. 

Fantastic News! (June 24,2015)

Posted by William Abruzzo on June 24, 2015 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (10)

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     Recipes and Ramblings -the Cookbooks -Publication scheduled for Spring 2016!

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                         Finalmente! I am very proud to announce that I have partnered with Pelican Publishing Company for the publication of the first of my two regional Italian cookbooks, In the Footsteps of Nonna: Recipes and Ramblings in Southern Italy and Sicily. There are over 150 authentic and original recipes that are easy to prepare abd delicious. This cookbook also contains plenty of wonderful short stories about my family's Italian food traditions, my many travels to Italy, and my colorful friends who live there. It provides wonderful and entertaining insight to Italian food and culture. I will keep you updated as we near the publication date. 

 

        Many thanks to my amazing wife, family, friends and the members of Recipeandramblings.com for all of your support over the past few years! Many thanks also to Nina Kooij, editor in chief, at Pelican Publishing Company, and the entire team at Pelican for sharing my vision and for all of your hard work and efforts over the next few months! Finally, with your continued support, I am hopeful and confident that my second cookbook, Recipes and Ramblings in Northern Italy, Istria and Dalmatia will be available in 2017 or sooner!

 

Grazie mille!


Cooking Tip of the Week (June 22, 2015)

Posted by William Abruzzo on June 22, 2015 at 3:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Toast Pine Nuts Before Adding Them to Your Recipes to Bring Out their Flavor

         Whenever a pasta, meat or vegetable recipe calls for any sort of nut, be sure to toast them first. Toasting the nuts develops the nutty flavor, adding more depth and richness to your dish. Nuts can be toasted in a pre-heated oven at 375 degrees. The nuts will toast quickly, anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes, so be sure to keep your eye on them. When the nuts are lightly golden, remove them from the oven and transfer them immediately from the baking pan to a dish.

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         Nuts can also be toasted on the stove top in an ungreased frying pan. Set the frying pan on a low flame, add the nuts and stir them continually. This will ensure that they toast evenly and do not burn. Sprinkle toasted pine nuts, almonds or walnuts on top of roasted or sautéed vegetables for added texture or grind them up and stir them into sauces like pesto for an extra kick of nutty flavor.

Recipe of the Week (June 15, 2015)

Posted by William Abruzzo on June 16, 2015 at 4:40 PM Comments comments (3)

Sauteed Okra with Cherry Tomatoes, Olives, Garlic, Basil & Chilies

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       This week's recipe takes us to the hills of Calabria, where fresh vegetables are sauteed with olive oil, vibrant cherry tomatoes and plenty of spice.  In Calabria, a few generous pinches of crushed red chili flakes are tossed into all sorts of dishes for added flavor. The Calabrese are known for their bold cuisine, and this dish is typical of the regional cooking style.  Use any vegetable you like -even fresh okra! 

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Ingredients:

 Okra (1 1/2 lbs)

 Cherry Tomatoes (1 1/2 dry pint)

 Spanish Onion (½ small)

 Garlic (4 cloves)

 Basil (2 tbs chopped, packed firm)

 Paprika (to taste)

 Crushed Red Pepper (to taste)

 Black Pepper (to taste)

Salt (to taste)

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        Chop the onion and basil, and slice the garlic. Slice the okra into 1 inch pieces. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half. Coat the bottom of a deep frying pan with olive and set it on a medium low burner. Saute the onion and garlic until soft and then add the okra and season with salt and spices. Continue sautéing for 3 minutes or until the okra is tender but still quite firm. Then, add the cherry tomatoes and sauté for another 2 or 3 minutes or until the cherry tomatoes pucker and release their juices. Serves 4 to 6 adults.

Cooking Tip of the Week (June 3, 2015)

Posted by William Abruzzo on June 5, 2015 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (1)


Minced Prosciutto Adds Rich Flavor to Your Dish!

 

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        Prosciutto adds an extra depth of wonderful pork flavor to any seafood, pasta or vegetable dish. The unexpected rich flavor compliments just about anything. Adding some diced prosciutto to sautéed vegetables, shellfish steamed in white wine or even a hearty meat ragu is very simple, and it will surely impress your family and dinner guests.

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         You can purchase prosciutto sliced fresh from the deli counter or pre-packaged. The pre-packaged brands are sliced very thin, and the slices of prosciutto are separated with wax paper. The authentic Prosciutto di Parma and other imported Italian brands, such as San Daniele, tend to be very expensive. If you are adding prosciutto to a dish for flavoring, a good quality domestic prosciutto is all that you will need.

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         If prosciutto is available at the deli counter, ask the attendant to slice it in a slab. Simply dice it up and throw it into the frying pan as you are sautéing aromatics or creating the sauce for your dish. Let the prosciutto saute with the aromatics or simmer in the sauce for a few minutes to extract its flavor. As prosciutto tends to be salty, be sure to season the dish with salt at the very end. If you are using pre-packaged thinly sliced prosciutto, remove all of the wax paper and lay the slices in a pile. Set the prosciutto in the freezer for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. When the prosciutto is semi-frozen, it will be much easier to dice or mince.

 


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Private Cooking Classes

Cooking Classes

I offer private cooking classes for up to six people. Cooking classes are held in my home, or if suitable, yours. I specialize in all aspects of Italian regional cuisine, including soups, vegetables, pasta, risotto, meat, seafood and desserts. I will design a cooking class around whatever interests you –whether it is a specific recipe you wish to learn or a skill such as pasta-making. For more details, please go to the "Catering/Cooking Classes" page or take a minute to become a member of my website and contact me via internal email at Recipesandramblings.com . 

Bill's Cooking Tip of the Month


Roll Out Pie Dough with Ease Using Plastic Wrap

This is an old trick I learned years ago from my mother. The next time you bake a pie, roll out the dough between sheets of plastic wrap. This will prevent the dough from sticking to your rolling pin and will make it easier to transport the dough from your work surface to the pie dish or baking sheet.

Cover your entire work surface with plastic wrap and sprinkle it lightly with flour. Turn the dough onto the wrap, pat it down to 1 inch thickness, sprinkle it lightly with flour, and then cover it with a second layer of wrap. Roll out the dough to just less than ¼ inch thickness and remove the top layer of wrap. Lift the dough using the bottom layer of wrap, turn it on to a lightly greased pie dish or baking sheet, and then remove the wrap. Its quick and easy! 

Tips on Italian Ingredients


 Frying Tomato Paste Enhances the Flavor and Adds Depth to Your Dish

Many recipes direct you to stir tomato paste into a sauce, soup or stew. However, frying the tomato paste first fully develops its flavor and eliminates any raw or metallic taste. It is a quick and easy way to enhance the flavor of your dish. Tomato paste should always be added at the beginning of a recipe, rather than at the end. This allows its flavor to marry with the dish. Add it immediately after sautéing your aromatics in olive oil or rendered fat. When the aromatics are soft, push them to one side of your pot or frying pan. Place a dollop of tomato paste on the other side, tilt the pot or frying pan to pool the oil around the tomato paste, and let it gently sizzle for about 2 minutes.  After the tomato paste has fried, incorporate it into the aromatics and then add the liquid and other ingredients to complete your sauce, soup or stew. 

Just Picked From My Italian Vegetable Garden!

 Zucchini Blossoms 

My Italian Heritage

 My Great Grandparents, Vita and Onofrio Abruzzo, from the town of Santa Margherita di Belice, Sicily pictured here with my grandfather Vito "Bill" in the center.

Great reads for the Italophile!

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