Sunday, February 24, 2008

Apples and Thyme - Round Up #4

The February Apples & Thyme round-up is here! The memories of mothers, grandmothers and others and our time spent in the kitchen with them are endless. I love how others' memories spark my own and inspire me to write them down. Thank you all for your heartfelt entries.

Before I launch into the round-up, my lovely partner in this event, Inge at Vanielje Kitchen, and I have decided to have a guest host next month. Chris over at Mele Cotte has happily agreed to be March's host. So, please watch for her announcement and send all entries to her by March 20. Her email is melecotte AT gmail DOT com.

On the 14th anniversary of her mother's death, Ivy at Greek Hospitality, shares memories of her strong, generous and hard-working mother with us. Ivy created this very unique dish of Halloumi and dried fruit and honey using her mom's favorite cheese.

Jeanne at Cooksister made me wish she lived next door so that I could walk over with my coffee in hand to share in these delicious looking "no recipe" biscuits. I cried as I read her words about longing for her mom's arms around her or the sound of her voice. I know that pain well.

Maria Gay at A Scientist in the Kitchen gives us a birthday tribute to her dad - a fabulous and inspirational cook. I love to read stories of men who have influenced us in the kitchen. Check out the spread of dishes they created in his honor!

My Apples & Thyme event partner, the incredibly talented Inge, presents The Delectable, Unforgettable Valerie Crunchie Recipe along with her memories of childhood friends in South Africa. Who couldn't love these treats?

Next month's Apples & Thyme host, Chris, over at Mele Cotte created her first successful and very decadent looking lasagne in honor of her mother - very cleverly representing layers of their relationship!

Speaking of layers of relationship, I allude to that in my post "Cooking With Mom". According to the comments I got back already, I think that all mothers and daughters have a sometimes intense and definitely layered relationships. Oh, yes, my recipe is one that my mom and I passed back and forth - a very simple and delicious Penne with Prosciutto and Radicchio.
Thank you all for sharing your beautiful memories and tempting recipes with us. I look forward to seeing what memories inspire us next month!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cooking with Mom

Over the years, my mother taught me a lot about cooking and I her. When I was very young, her cooking was pretty basic, at some point when I was about 12 or 13, she became very interested in "gourmet" cooking. She took all kinds of cooking classes - French, Italian, Chinese, and others. She immersed herself in learning as much as she could. Fast forward to my parents' retirement years and she once again took more cooking classes, watched cooking shows, read cookbooks and really mastered classic preparation and cooking methods, as well as the correct tools to use, their handling and care. I, on the other hand, always loved to experiment in the kitchen and was always comfortable just throwing things together or learning something in my own way, but definitely not the traditional way. My mother always used to say how jealous she was of my comfort in the kitchen (I wasn't afraid to make a mistake - and I made plenty!) I often resented her following me around the kitchen, watching everything I did. (Oh how I regret that today.) When I was older and more open to her ideas, I learned from her many basics that I was missing with my own methods. She taught me the best ways to chop, slice, peel, saute, etc. She showed me tools that I had never used, corrected my mistreatment of certain herbs and vegetables, showed me professional tips that I never would have had the patience to learn otherwise. We had an interesting exchange when I had finally mellowed and did not resent her presence when I was cooking. I was usually the one to discover some dish at a restaurant and then replicate it at home. The successful ones I always made for her. She was the one to study cookbooks and shows and pass those recipes she found good on to me. Sometimes we had both made certain dishes so much that we couldn't remember who started it or who changed it. In the end, we really inspired each other and taught each other much about food and cooking. For that and many other reasons, I am eternally grateful for her.

Mom and me her kitchen - 2000

One such recipe that we passed back and forth was a simple pasta that I created from a dish I had in Milan many years ago. After my mom passed away, in her recipe collection I found a 3x5 card in her handwriting with this recipe on it. She had named the pasta "Antonio's Radicchio Pasta". I felt a bit resentful that the pasta dish I had discovered had somehow been attributed to the Italian in the family - my husband - and not me. It gave me a good laugh, as my mom adored my husband and really put him on a pedestal - especially when it came to his natural abilities with food and cooking. So, in a way, it was a posthumous compliment to me from my mom!

This is my entry for Apples & Thyme.

Antonio's Radicchio Pasta

serves 4

1 lb. penne pasta
1 head chopped radicchio (For this dish, I prefer the Radicchio di Chioggia - the type with the round head)
1/2 lb. diced prosciutto
A pile (maybe 1 cup) of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano
Salt and Pepper to taste

Boil pasta in well salted water.

In a large skillet, saute' prosciutto with a good glug of olive oil for a few minutes, or until it appears to be cooked, then add the radicchio and cook until wilted. Add a little fresh ground pepper.

Drain pasta, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Toss pasta in the skillet with the radicchio and prosciutto. If it appears to dry, add in a little of the pasta water. Add salt if needed. Serve in a big bowl topped with the shaved cheese.

Of course, don't forget to serve it with a delicious Italian wine - try a Tocai from Friuli, or if you prefer red, try a Refosco.

Buon appetito!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Passionate Mondays - Venice

Those of you who know me or follow my blog closely know that I am passionate about Venice. I have mentioned it many times or alluded to it in different posts. I thought today, coming so soon after the recent "Carnevale di Venezia" would be the perfect today to share a passionate piece I wrote many years ago about Venice, otherwise known as "La Serenissima".Venice

The train approaches the coast and my senses stir and my instincts are alerted that I’m near my city by the sea, Venice, “La Serenissima”. Somehow it’s mine, but like a lover, it’s never mine. And like a lover, I am always excited reuniting after a long time apart. I approach with a quickened heartbeat.

As the wooden boat carries me closer to its heart, I feel its pulse. Once my feet are on its small alleyways, I’m taken. I cannot lead, I can only follow. I have no control, the city swallows me, moves me. I’m helplessly swept into its tides. Not wanting to know where it is leading me, I follow my lover blindly to edges, turns, pauses, views, treasures – discovering its private places. I am completely exposed with no secrets from it. Just flowing, I feel more. I’m enveloped in its embrace, our breaths becoming one, our pulses rising and falling together.

Sometimes I hide behind my camera lens. Perhaps, it is shyness in the face of such beauty. Perhaps, it is a futile effort to capture a moment of ecstasy, an attempt to hold onto this feeling of rapture. But that’s just it! This feeling of being lost in Venice’s arms cannot be caught or captured, just as the city was never caught or captured. My lover cannot be contained, which is what I love about it. Re-visiting a photo does not convey its soul, its pulse, its magic. It must be experienced in person, with its saline breath on one’s skin.

My excitement quickens as I turn a corner and catch an incredible view, soon obscured by something else – a boat, a pedestrian. The next turn awards me with a forbidden peak into a palazzo, its Ottoman-inspired windows one minute revealing its mysterious interior, the next minute reflecting the sun in my eyes. Next I cross a perfect little bridge, empty and in solitude one minute, the next sharing it with a woman with and her groceries. These are mere glimpses into a complex soul.

The canals, the veins of the city, take visitors on boats into its heart. How many of them are aware of the great soul that they are entering? How many of them feel its pulse, learn its secrets, relinquish control to its gentle lead? How many will feel its mystery? How many will fall in love like I have and develop an insatiable craving for this mystical place? How many will keep coming back for more? How many will try to own this place (like so many in the past) and fail? How many will do the opposite and be scared off by Venice’s pleasures and passions, never to return for fear of losing themselves to the city? Oh, what they will miss! Yet, Venice will reveal itself - albeit slowly - its soul and treasures, to anyone who gives oneself up to it. A ready lover, this is the Casanova of cities. One moment in time, to be truly united with La Serenissima, is a pleasure not to be missed.

At times, my mind leads me to the fantasy of what it would be like to be with my lover permanently, married to this pleasure. Ah, but I know. I cannot hold onto this one. This lover is free, never to be caught, remember? I must be satisfied with my occasional rendezvous. I must always let it go for it belongs to no one, except perhaps to the great expanse of the sea.

I also want to mention some of my favorite blogs and sites about Venice:

Passionate Palate Tours - yes, some self-promotion here. If you need someone to arrange your trip to Venice - hotels, restaurants, museums, walking tours, etc.
Living Venice and Beyond - Nan gives us an insider's look at Venice and also has written a great book about Italy and Venice.
The Olive Notes - this is not a blog from Venice, but Erin recently posted two wonderful pieces about her time at Carnevale in Venice.
Michelle's Mental Clutter - all about life in Venice by an expat
Palazzo Grassi - an historical palazzo with wonderful art exhibits
Venice Daily Photo - just what it says it is
Venice From Beyond the Bridge - a blog with very interesting photos and stories about the city

Venice is, unfortunately, one of the most expensive cities in Italy to visit. With the weak dollar, it makes a trip there very difficult. However, if you can afford it and want to avoid the big crowds, I recommend going in the winter months - November, December, January. You will have to put up with sometimes very cold weather, "acqualta" or high water, and even snow, but it will be worth it. The last time I was there was in December and I packed my rubber boots in anticipation of the acqualta. Instead, there was snow and ice. The falling snow was like a blanket on the city, quieting it. I felt like I had the streets to myself at times. Yes, it was cold, but thankfully the stores sold cashmere socks (which I forgot to pack) that saved my feet and with wool scarves and gloves I was one very happy explorer. The cold also makes that afternoon espresso or hot chocolate taste even better. I found that traveling at that time brings priveleges you don't find when the city is full - like lots of attention in the restaurants (I had restaurant owners bringing me things to try because they had the time), good availability and better rates in hotels, no waiting lines at wine bars or at city attractions, and markets in which you could actually move freely. That is all just some food for thought for those of you that want a more intimate experience of La Serenissima.

Have a passionate Monday!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Crostata Invernale/Winter Crostata

I haven't posted much lately, not even my "Passionate Mondays". I've been juggling a lot of things, multi-tasking all day long, leaving myself with almost no quiet or alone time, therefore I haven't wanted to sacrifice one extra minute to "doing" anything else. This weekend is the first weekend in a long time in which I can pretty much do what I want. Yahoo! I started this morning with a walk on the beach with Stefania Belli, owner of La Lingua La Vita in Todi, Umbria. I wrote about her school in a recent post. My pre-cappuccino Italian stumbled roughly off my tongue while we played with our friend Christina's dog. Then we went for cornetti (Italian croissants) and cappuccini at my favorite cafe' in Long Beach - Aroma di Roma. That is what I call a beautiful morning!

Sometimes I find after being so busy, that on weekends like this I almost don't know what to do with myself. I tend to distract myself with house busy-ness - baking, laundry, paying bills, etc. Then as Saturday night is approaching I realize that I haven't really done anything for myself.

None of this relates to what I sat down to write about - crostata! Crostata is Itaian for Tart - savory or sweet. I like making a meal, especially in the winter, of a savory crostata, with mixed green salad on the side. The toppings and/or fillings for a crostata are only limited by your imagination. Use this recipe as a base and experiment. I also like denser cheeses like emmentaler, gruyere or mozzarella with tomatoes in the summer. You can try using any kind of cooked greens or asparagus with this ricotta filling, or roasted red peppers, eggplant or sundried tomatoes. I created this tart specifically for cold nights with ingredients that are readily available in the winter - ricotta, parmagiano, leeks, prosciutto and artichoke hearts. Hence my name for it:

Crostata Invernale/Winter Crostata
Makes two 7-9" crostatas
Serves 4 as a main course, or 8 as an appetizer

1 3/4 - 2 cups white flour
1/4 cup olive oil
2 eggs
1 tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients together. They blend easily and should come together in about one minute. Split the dough into two disks, wrap in wax paper and chill for at least 10 minutes in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile cut 4 medium-large leeks (white and light green parts only) lengthwise in half and clean well of all dirt. Dry and chop finely across, in half-circles.

Prosciutto - you can either buy some thick slices and chop, or if your store sells the prosciutto ends you can use those. Either way, chop into little chunks enough for 1 1/2 - 2 cups.

Sautee leeks and prosciutto together with some olive oil until leeks become tender, about 10-15 minutes.
While the leeks and prosciutto are cooking, drain, rinse and pat dry one jar of marinated, quartered artichoke hearts. Set aside.
Blend about 1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta with about 1/2 cup finely grated Parmagianno Reggiano, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Roll out each disk of dough on a floured surface to about 1/8" thick. Transfer to a baking sheet and make free form edges. (If you are using these for appetizers, you could form the dough into a square instead so that small pieces can be cut in squares when done.)
Spread ricotta mixture on each crostata evenly. On top of that distribute the leek and prosciutto mixture. On top of that, place artichoke hearts.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
These can be sliced like pizza for entrees, or in little pieces for appetizers.

Don't forget to enjoy with a nice glass of wine - and with this you could drink just about any type you like. Buon appetito!

Don't forget your entries for Apples & Thyme are due by February 20th. Being that I am extra busy, a few days later won't matter this month! You can go here for more details.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Stufato di Vitello/Veal Stew

I haven't posted many recipes lately for several reasons, and I apologize. I miss experimenting in the kitchen and sharing my findings with everyone. My husband is still undergoing a lengthy medical treatment which leaves him wanting bland foods (like when you have the flu.) So, I am missing my "right arm" in the kitchen as we work really well together in creating new dishes and enhancing old ones. Also, without someone to cook for, I am not inspired. There is definitely something to be said for cooking for others.

Today I asked my husband and if he wanted some simple chicken stew and he replied, "No, veal stew." Happily I agreed; I had something fun to cook today! Especially in the winter, a hearty, one-pot meal is so comforting, and relatively easy. This stew can be made identically with rabbit, chicken or beef. My store did not have "stew" cut or chunks of veal so I bought two veal shanks, equalling 1.4 lbs, which is plenty for three people actually. (I can get carried away.)
Veal Stew/Stufato di Vitello
serves 3
1 lb. veal chunks or two veal shanks (about 1.25-1.5 lbs)
one medium onion
1 cup red wine
4-5 Tbsp. chopped tomatoes or pureed tomatoes (or 2-3 Tbsp. tomato paste)
one garlic clove peeled, left whole, and stuck with one clove (the clove is optional)
1 celery stalk, diced finely
3-4 medium carrots, roughly chopped
2 large yukon gold potatoes (or 8 small ones), cut in small chunks
about 1 cup roughly chopped cremini (or brown) mushrooms
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley (optional)
approximately 2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
Sautee the onion in some olive oil in a sturdy stew pot. Dust the veal pieces with flour. When the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes, add the veal and brown on both (or all sides). Add the wine and cook down for about 10 minutes.
Add the tomato puree or paste and stir. Add the all the chopped vegetables and herbs and stir well.
Add the broth, water and some salt and pepper. Add enough broth so that it just covers the vegetables. Bring to a boil. Place the whole garlic clove on top of the vegetables, being careful not to stir it under. (You want to know where the garlic clove is at all times as you will remove it after about two hours of cooking.) Lower heat to a simmer and place lid on pot, but leave it slightly open (I put a wooden spoon across the top of the pot and rest the lid on that.) Stir every 20-30 minutes, being careful not to lose the garlic clove. Cook like this for 5 or more hours - the longer the better. Serve with a good, crusty bread, with a salad on the side for a great meal.
If you have less cooking time, use no water, just two cups broth and cook for about 3 1/2 hours. Less than that, it is just not tasty enough.
Other version:
You can omit the potatoes and serve this over polenta. If you do, use about 1 cup less liquid so that the sauce is thicker.
I think rabbit is my favorite version of this stew, but that is a personal preference. Either way, it is really satisfying.
Enjoy with a medium to heavy bodied red wine like a Chianti Classico, Barbera, Barbaresco, Rosso di Montalcino, or something similar.
Buon appetito!