Recipes and Ramblings in Italy

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Cooking Tip of the Week (11/21/2010)

Posted by Bill Abruzzo on November 20, 2010 at 11:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Crostini are a delicious and unique alternative to store bought crackers

Cheese and crackers are a popular snack served at cocktail parties and as an appetizer for dinner. It is an American classic.  The next time you have a get together or dinner party, serve crostini instead of crackers. They add the perfect Italian twist and are a unique and delicious way to impress your guests.

Crostini are simply toasted or grilled Italian bread that has been lightly brushed with olive oil. They are very simple to make. Use a long skinny loaf of the freshest baked Italian or French bread. A baguette would do just fine!  Cut the bread on the diagonal into 1/2 inch thick slices. Brush them with regular or extra virgin olive oil and grill them for 2 minutes on each side over a low flame. Alternatively, set them on a baking sheet and bake them in a preheated 375 degree oven for 3 to 5 minutes or until golden brown. Serve the crostini warm or room temperature.  They are great with sliced cheeses, dips and spreads.  Give them a try!

Cooking Tip of the Week (11/01/2010)

Posted by Bill Abruzzo on November 1, 2010 at 10:25 PM Comments comments (1)


Sautéed Greens and Beans are an Unexpected and Healthy Side Dish


Any Italian American of Neapolitan descent is sure to be familiar with sautéed escarole and cannellini beans. It is a classic dish from the countryside of Campania. Today, it even appears on the menu at Italian restaurants in the United States. The peasants of central and southern Italy have a long tradition of sauteeing greens. Sautéed greens are typically paired with beans for a healthy and nourishing dish. Any combination of beans and green leafy vegetables will work just fine. Here are my favorites for mixing and matching: cannellini, chick peas, borlotti or red kidney beans with escarole, spinach, Swiss chard or kale. This is a dish you can make all your own! Choose whatever combination you like best or simply buy whatever is freshest in the market that day. Saute the greens in olive oil with garlic, add the beans, and then season the dish with salt, black pepper and paprika. If you like, add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes too.

 


Cooking Tip of the Week (10/23/2010)

Posted by Bill Abruzzo on October 22, 2010 at 3:10 PM Comments comments (1)


Cooking with Black Pepper and Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

 

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.

 

For the best quality and flavor, purchase whole peppercorns and 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 be purchased whole and ground with a mortar and pestle as needed.  However, pre-crushed dried chilies tend to keep their flavor, so they are a good alternative for the sake of convenience.


Cooking Tip of the Week (10/13/2010)

Posted by Bill Abruzzo on October 22, 2010 at 2:50 PM Comments comments (1)


The Dos and Don’ts of Cooking Pasta

 

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.

 

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.

 

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! 


Cooking Tip of the Week (10/4/2010)

Posted by Bill Abruzzo on October 5, 2010 at 1:10 AM Comments comments (9)

Toast Nuts Before Adding Them to Your Recipes to Bring Out the Flavor

 


Whenever a pasta, meat or vegetable recipe calls for any sort of nuts, 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 any temperature between 350 and 400 degrees. The nuts will toast quickly, anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes, so be sure to keep your eye on them. Once the nuts are lightly golden, remove them from the oven and transfer them immediately from the pan to a dish.


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.  


Cooking Tip of the Week (9/27/2010)

Posted by Bill Abruzzo on September 28, 2010 at 12:16 PM Comments comments (2)


Zest Things Up With the Flavor of Citrus!


The best citrus in all of the Mediterranean grows in southern Italy. The region near Sorrento is famous for its lemons, and Sicily is home to vast groves of orange trees. Italians know that citrus peel is not only fragrant, but full of bright flavor. Finely grated lemon or 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. 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.


 

The uses for lemon and orange zest are endless. So, the next time you have some citrus fruit in your refrigerator, pull out your microplane and grate some zest into your favorite recipes. It is a sure way to add an Italian flare to any of your dishes. Be sure to use plump fruits with a thick peel. For orange zest, I prefer to use large navel oranges from California. I find that other varieties have a thinner peel and are less fragrant. Finally, when grating the zest of lemons and oranges, be sure to grate only the outer skin as the white pith is bitter. Enjoy! 


Cooking Tip of the Week (9/20/2010)

Posted by Bill Abruzzo on September 21, 2010 at 12:59 AM Comments comments (4)


How to Cook with Baby Artichokes!

 

Baby artichokes are now available in most supermarkets. They are a wonderful ingredient to add to stews, mixed roasted vegetables and frittatas. Try them also on top of pizza. They can be seasoned, drizzled with olive oil and then roasted in the oven at 400 degrees or sautéed with olive oil and butter on the stove top.


 

When you slice a tender young artichoke, its flesh will quickly turn gray, just as a sliced apple turns brown. A sure way to prevent this from happening is to drop the sliced artichokes in a bowl of water and lemon juice. The lemon juice will prevent the artichokes from discoloring, and they will look and taste delicious in all of your recipes.

 


Here is my method for preparing baby artichokes. Squeeze the juice of two lemons into a deep bowl of cold water and set it to the side. Start by removing all of the tough outer leaves of the artichoke until you reach the soft inner cone. Cut off the top 1/3 of the cone and then peel the stem with a potato peeler. Slice it into halves or quarters and drop them immediately into the acidulated water. When you are ready to cook the artichokes, simply pat them dry.

 


Cooking Tip of the Week (9/13/2010)

Posted by Bill Abruzzo on September 14, 2010 at 4:02 AM Comments comments (6)


Patience Makes the Perfect Risotto!

 

There are no shortcuts to making the perfect Risotto. Each step of the process is important and should not be hastened or skipped. First, the rice is sautéed briefly in olive oil or butter so that the grains are coated with the fat and lightly toasted. This process is called “tostatura”. It is the first step to properly developing the rice so that its starches are released during the cooking process. Wine and hot stock are then slowly added, one ladle at a time, while the rice is stirred constantly. It is important that the rice be allowed to absorb most of the liquid before the next ladle is added. So, don’t even think about adding all of the liquid at once!


The slow process is necessary to gently coax the starches from the grains of rice and into the cooking liquid making it thick and creamy. This is where patience comes into play because any shortcut here will result in a poor consistency. Finally, butter and then grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese are whisked in to complete the risotto. This process is called “mantecare”. It is the last step that will make your risotto silky and smooth. Buon appetito!


Cooking Tip of the Week (9/03/2010)

Posted by Bill Abruzzo on September 3, 2010 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (4)


Minced Prosciutto Adds Rich Flavor to Your Dish!


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.


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.


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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I offer private cooking classes for up to six people. Cooking classes are held in my home on Saturday evenings. 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 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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