Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dall'Italia con amore e il gusto.... means "from Italy with love and taste!"

From Italy come these easy dishes that you will love. Full of fresh taste, the dessert takes me back to Positano by the sea and Ravelo (OMG, the Amalfi coast!) and then much further South to the very interesting region of Puglia, also by the sea (what am I talking about since most of Italia is close to the sea!).

Especially, the Puglia area (the heel of the boot) since it's not known as a tourist destination has been able to stay almost "untouched" and offers an extensive vegetarian cuisine as well as seafood, and considering the Pugliese are renowned for an almost vegetarian cuisine and lean times. Not surprising since some of Italy’s finest vegetables (artichokes to zucchini, and lots in between) are grown here, many organically, and shipped all over Europe. So it stands to reason that the first recipe I include are meatballs made without meat, polpette di pane, would be a star on local tables. How to describe these in English since polpette, the Italian term, is always translated as "meatballs." Bread meatballs? I don’t think so. Meatless meatballs is about as close as I can come. They’re also sometimes called polpette di lupo, wolf meatballs, though whether they were once made of wolf meat (which I don't think so at all) and I believe they are so called because they keep the wolf from the door, but it's anyone’s guess. But they are delicious; a wonderful way to use up old bread, and a delight on the table even of the most rigorous carnivore.

Polpette di Lupo (Meatless Meatballs).- So great you won't even miss the meat! Lots of flavor and fresh taste, give it a try!

About a pound of stale country-style bread, sliced and the crusts removed
1 cup milk in which to soak the bread
3 eggs, beaten
Some grated cheese (pecorino -- not Romano -- is authentic but Parmigiano will do)
A very finely minced mixture of flat-leaf parsley & basil, about 2 tbl each
1-2 garlic clove, finely minced
1 cup of oil for frying (Like Pugliese cooks, use a less expensive brand olive oil for all frying)

Soak the bread slices in milk until they’re soaked through, then squeeze dry. Crumble and tear the soaked bread into smaller pieces, then process in the food processor, using quick pulses, until crumbs have formed. Don’t over-process! Add the crumbs to a bowl with the beaten eggs, about a 1/2 cup of grated cheese and the minced herbs and garlic (adjust to your taste). Add a sprinkle of salt and a little black pepper. Mix it all together well with your hands, then taste and adjust the flavor, adding more cheese, herbs or seasoning if necessary.

Now wet your hands, which makes it easier to shape, and form fat golf balls --not too tightly packed just enough so they hold together. Set the balls aside on a plate to dry for 15 or 20 min. In a saucepan over med-high heat, heat the oil to frying temperature. Fry the bread balls, turning them gently, until they’re brown on all sides. Remove them as they brown and drain on a rack covered with paper towels. Arrange them on a platter and spoon the tomato sauce over. Garnish with a little more grated cheese.
NOTE: These are great hot but is the type of food that can be served at room temperature too so it's ideal as a snack or for entertaining if you make the balls smaller.

Super Quick Fresh Tomato Sauce.- To use with everything when time is short yet you still need a great sauce! For everything!

4 tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1 med onion, finely chopped
1/4 - 1/2 cup red wine (optional but adds a lot of flavor)
2-3 clove garlic, finely chopped
Dried red pepper flakes, crushed (more or less, you choose)
1 (28-ounce) can peeled plum tomatoes, pureed
1/2 bunch fresh basil leaves, torn (you can use dried, see note)

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and add the onion, garlic, and chili peppers. Gently fry ingredients together, about 5 min. Add wine if using. Add tomatoes to saucepan. Simmer on low to med heat for 10-30 min. Season with salt, to taste. Add basil leaves at the very end.
NOTE: If using dried basil then add about 1-2 tsp and put it in along with the onion to fry.

A favorite Sicilian dish, especially for the feast of San Giuseppe, held on March 19 and it’s a complex combination of flavors that seems to draw on all of Sicilian history and geography. Because it’s made with fresh wild fennel greens and fresh sardines, it’s something most of us will have to dream about -- until we get to Sicily or if we have access to fresh fish (try the oriental markets).

But maybe in California, where the wild fennel should be sending up fresh new greens along the sides of country roads. So why promote a recipe with difficult-to-find ingredients? My theory is this: If enough people across the country start asking for fresh wild fennel greens, some enterprising Californian will start to harvest and market them.

Do you have to be so fastidious? Yes, you do. So, for all you, here’s the real recipe for pasta con le sarde. The bread crumbs, you will see, come in at the end as a garnish instead of grated cheese.

To make them, simply grate stale country-style bread in a grater or in the food processor if that seems easier, then set them in a skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring, until they are golden brown and crisp. Be careful not to burn them and remove them from the heat the instant they are done. (You could make these in larger quantities and store what you don’t use for this recipe -- they keep well and shouldn’t need refrigeration.) I put so me oil on the pan and add pressed garlic, red pepper flakes, finely minced parsley, salt and pepper and fry first, then add the bread and get it golden and crunchy. It's really great as a topping and can be used on all tipes of things too! Something else to make with stale bread so don't toss it.

Pasta con el Sarde (Pasta with Sardines).- Lovely, healthy and easy to make.

3 or 4 big bunches of wild fennel, especially the feathery green tops, or enough to make 4 packed cups when sliced
1 lb of fresh sardines, each cut into 2 fillets
A pinch of saffron
About 1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
A couple of tablespoons of tomato concentrate
1/4 cup dry white wine
A couple tablespoons each of golden raisins and pine nuts
A little flour for frying the sardines
1 lb of pasta, bucatini or a short stubby pasta such as rigatoni
1/2 cup of toasted coarse bread crumbs.

Chop the fennel into pieces about an inch long, using only the tender parts, then rinse well under running water. You should have about 4 cups of chopped fennel. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and drop in all the fennel. Boil for 15 to 20 min, or until the thickest pieces are easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Drain the fennel by pulling it out with a slotted spoon. Don't discard the cooking water which will be used to cook the pasta. You should have about 2 cups of cooked drained greens. While the greens are cooking, prepare the sardine fillets. Set aside about 1/4 of them to be fried (you should have at least one fillet to top each serving) and chop the rest into bite-sized pieces. Remove about 1/2 cup of the cooking water and add the saffron to it. Set aside to let it steep. As soon as you can handle it, chop the fennel coarsely. Heat 2 or 3 tbl of oil in a skillet over med heat and saute the fennel until it absorbs the oil and starts to give off its very pleasant aroma. Remove the fennel from the skillet and set aside.

Add some more oil to the skillet and set it over med-low heat. Cook the chopped onion gently, stirring, until it is soft and golden but not starting to brown. Stir in the chopped anchovies and press them with a fork to mash them into the sauce. Stir in the tomato paste and the wine and simmer for a couple of minutes, then add the chopped sardines and cook, stirring, until they’ve turned opaque. Add the chopped fennel greens, mixing well, then the raisins, pine nuts and saffron water, along with a little salt and black pepper. Simmer very, very gently, stirring occasionally, while you fry the sardine fillets and cook the pasta. Check now and then and if the sauce is getting too dry, add a little more white wine or water.

Dry the reserved sardine fillets very well with paper towels, then lightly coat them in a little flour. Heat about 1/4 cup of oil in a small skillet over med heat and when it’s hot brown the fillets quickly on both sides. Transfer the fillets to a rack with paper towels to drain. Add enough water to the fennel water to make 6 qts. or so, bring it to a boil and add salt. As soon as it’s boiling vigorously, drop in the pasta and cook until done, drain well, and dress immediately with the hot fennel and sardine sauce. Garnish each serving with a fried fillet and top with a good handful of toasted bread crumbs.

Here is a super easy "cheesecake" recipe that requires NO baking (well, maybe for the crust) is easy to make, cool and fresh. It comes straight from Positano so it's ideal for summer!

Torta Di Ricotta (Ricotta Tart).- You have to try this one!

2 cups plus 2 tbl ricotta cheese
4 tbl sugar
1 cup heavy cream
3 tbl bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 pie crust, blind baked and golden brown
3 pears, peeled, halved and cored
3 cups water
3 tbl apricot jam

Refrigerate the ricotta in a strainer overnight so that the excess moisture is removed. In a mixing bowl, blend the ricotta and 2 tbl sugar with a hand mixer until it becomes a velvety consistency.

In a separate bowl, whip the cream with 1 tbl of sugar. Gently fold in the whipped cream into the ricotta mixture along with the bittersweet chocolate. Spread the filling into the pie crust and refrigerate.

In a saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tbl sugar and 2 cups of water. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the pears and gently simmer until soft when pierced with a knife. Remove the pears from the pan and let cool. Cut the pears into slices and fan the slices on top of the pie filling, until the surface of the pie is covered. Fill in the gaps with extra pieces of pear, if necessary. In another saucepan, heat the remaining 1 cup water and apricot jam. Stir and cook until the jelly is liquid, so that it can be used as a glaze. Spread the apricot glaze over the pears and let the pie rest in the refrigerator for 4 hrs before serving.

My daughter Tarah's, favorite dessert (along with Mexican flan) are Cannoli's.... while she likes the one's with chocolate pieces, the favorite is the ones infused with orange zest.... I've had these old sheet aluminum tubes (5 in long and 1 inch diam) to make these; you can see these would be easy to get or make.

Easy Cannoli from Palermo.- Who doesn't like cannoli's? No one I know..... Here are three versions of these: Orange, Chocolate and Pistachio....MMMmmmm

For the Shells:
1 1/3 cups flour
1 tablespoon shortening
1 pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
wine (sweet or dry)
oil for frying

Mix together flour, shortening, salt and sugar. Add enough wine to make a stiff but workable dough. Roll dough into a ball and let it stand for about 1 hour. Roll dough out 1/8 inch thick. Cut rolled dough into 5x5 inch squares. Place a cannoli tube across dough square on an angle (from top left corner to bottom right corner). Wrap one corner around the tube, then the other (which should overlap the first). Press together to seal seam. Fry in oil, one at a time, until deep golden brown. Carefully remove fried cannoli shell from tube. Cool completely before filling.

2 cups ricotta cheese- well drained in paper towel covered sieve
1 tsp vanilla shopping list
1 cup powdered sugar (or less if you prefer them to be less sweet)
then you can add:
1/2 cup mini-chocolate chips -or-
1/2 candied fruits -or-
1-2 tbl orange zest or orange blossom extract -or-
1/2 cup crushed pistachios

Mix together ricotta cheese, vanilla, powdered sugar, and your flavorings until blended. Refrigerate until it is time to fill shells. It is best to fill right before serving. Fill each shell and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
NOTE: Use a pastry bag to make it easier or I use a zip lock bag with one of the corners cut off.

I've put the polpette's on the table in front of the TV while my guys were watching Mexico's World cup game against France (they won, YAY!) and Rene commented on the great meatballs and didn't even notice there was no meat in them.... he even said they had so much flavor (due to the herbs) and the fresh tomato sauce was fantastic! A great Avocado-Cheese Salad also made an appearance on the side and the Ricotta tart is hiding in the fridge for later.... It is said that remembering is re-living and this brought it home for us with some of these traditional foods, I hope it does for you too!

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