Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday, Thursday...Skip This Wednesday

So as Tuesday dawned, a truth dawned with it:  Italian food is heavy.  I woke up still full of polenta and involtini, and didn't actually get hungry again until about 10:30 a.m.  Nevertheless, the show must go on, and Tuesday's show involves Pesto Lasagna.

I came home from work -- as many of these ELTW entries begin -- to find my wife in a frenzy, trying to roll out pasta dough, mix pesto, make sauce and so on.  We'd broken out the pasta machine for the first time in several years, and despite her efforts, she was unable to get the noodle dough thin enough without shredding in the machine.  I traded my shirt and tie for shorts and t-shirt, and relieved her at the pasta station so she could focus on the other elements of the dish.  After re-reading the recipe several times, I figured out the mis-step, and began getting decent pasta rolled out.  The dough had dried from sitting and was hard to work, and we worried that we'd have to throw it out and run to the store for some noodles, but I had an idea, and sprinkled the dough-balls with water and wrapped them in plastic cling-wrap while I worked on the first one.  The idea worked, and I was able to run all of the dough through the machine and make decent noodles.

While I wrestled with that, Angel had created the pesto and bechamel sauce for the filling -- which I might say had filled the house with a wonderful aroma -- and was able to assemble the lasagna.

The plan had been to make a cake, but the pasta had taken too long, and I was sent out to a new Italian market around the corner from the ELTW kitchens -- Scigliano's -- for "a tiramisu and some garlic bread."  I tagged Evie (oldest girl around ELTW) and we buzzed over there.  We came away with a round bread product, and a half-dozen hand-made cannoli.

I've never had cannoli.  Evie's never had cannoli.  The store owner leaned over the counter and asked in his Brooklyn accent:

"So, ya gonna have cannoli with dinner?  Pretty good, eh?"  Evie just blinked at him.
"I've never had it," she said in a tiny mouse voice.
"Ya never had cannoli?  Aww, ya gonna be addicted!"

So, when we got home, the lasagna was out of the oven and on the table, and we began in earnest.  I have to say, a green lasagna isn't what I'd normally expect to be good, especially a meatless one, but this was a hit.  Savory, cheesy, and thin, chewy homemade noodles that are just worlds better than storebought.  Everyone liked it, which is rare.  It also bled a lot of olive oil into the pesto left on my dinner plate, and the bread made an awesome bruschetta out of it.  There were only two pieces left over after dinner.  One went with me to lunch the next day, the other with Evie.

Then for dessert, we broke open the cannoli.  It's true, I've never had one.  My gawd, they're good.  Rich, mildly cinnamon-y cream, crispy shell -- I think a picture sums it up pretty well:

Wednesday was another day that I woke up still full from dinner.  The problem as I see it is that the food is not only incredibly heavy, but incredibly delicious, which spurs one into eating way too much of it.  I don't know how there can be a single skinny Italian, with food like this around.  As for dinner on Wednesday, I admit we fell off the wagon.  At work it was the last week for a consultant that we'd gotten to know pretty well, and he took us out for dinner.  Very good, but Not Italian.

So, Thursday.  I didn't have much of a hand at all in this recipe.  I think I came home a bit later than usual from work, and most of the creation was already done.  We had summer-squash pancakes, simmered white beans and fennel sausage, and "old lady's handkerchief's," -- green beans and cheese folded in pasta triangles that looked like handkerchiefs.

This was another delicious dinner, and this time a light one!  The pancakes were stupendously savory and salty, very similar to deep-fried eggplant, actually.  The handkerchiefs were a great mixture of green-tasting beans, melted cheese inside, melted parmesan outside, and crispy shell.  And the beans, a very traditional dish from what I understand, were initially a bit off-putting from the licorice flavors imparted by the fennel, but the dish quickly grew on me and melded quite well in my mouth.  The kids liked the pancakes and the shell on the handkerchief.

Lasagna al Pesto
From Cooking with Italian Grandmothers, by Jessica Theroux 

I'm going to do something different with this recipe because a)It's three pages long, b) It's 12:30 at night and c) I'm typing with 9 fingers because of a butcher-knife incident that happened yesterday.

Savory Summer Squash Pancakes
From Italian Home Cooking, 125 Recipes to Comfort Your Soul, by Julia Della Croce

8 oz zucchini or yellow summer squash
2 tsp sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
2 large eggs
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano, pecorino romano or grana padano cheese
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Olive oil for frying

Grate the squash on the coarse side of a box grater, or shred it using the shredding attachment of a food processor; transfer it to a colander.  Toss with 1 tsp of the salt.  Put the colander in a sink and place a plate and heavy weight such as a large, filled can on top.  Allow the liquid to drain, about 30 minutes.  Using your hands, squeeze as much liquid from the squash as you can.

Beat the eggs and add the garlic, the other teaspoon of salt, pepper, and grated cheese.  Whisk in the flour.  Fold in the squash.

Warm 3 TBS of the olive oil over medium heat in an ample frying pan.  Drop 2 TBS of the squash batter in the pan to form small pancakes.  Fry until golden on both sides, about 4 minutes.  Transfer to a serving dish.  Sprinkle salt on the pancakes as soon as they come out of the pan.  Serve at once.

Simmered White Beans with Sausage and Tomato
From Italian Home Cooking, 125 Recipes to Comfort Your Soul, by Julia Della Croce

2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 sweet Italian fennel sausages (about 1/2 lb total) casings removed
1 TBS tomato paste
3 chopped fresh sage leaves, or 1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 cup tasty meat broth, or water
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups cooked, drained cannellini or great northern beans
1 TBS chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

In a skillet over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil.  Add the onion and garlic and saute gently until totally softened but not browned, about 5 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the onion and garlic from the pan and transfer to a side dish.

Heat the oil that remains in the pan and add the sausage meat to it, breaking it up with a wooden spoon.  Saute until browned, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Return the onion and garli to the pan.  Add the tomato paste, sage, broth or water, salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil.  Add the beans, bring to a boil again, and immediately reduce to a simmer.  Partially cover and cook gently for 10 to 15 minutes.  Sprinkle with the parsley and serve hot or warm.

From Marcella's Italian Kitchen, by Marcella Hazan
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/3 cups milk
3 eggs
2 to 3 TBS butter

Put the flour in a bowl and add the milk in a thin stream, a little at a time, mixing vigorously with a fork to avoid making lumps.

Add 1 egg at a time, beating it in rapidly with the fork.  When all the eggs have been added, mix in a pinch or two of salt.

Smear the bottom of an 8-inch skillet with 1/2 tsp of the butter.  Place the pan over a burner and turn on the heat to medium low.

Stir the batter and pour 1/3 cup of it into the pan.  Tilt and rotate the pan to distribute the batter evenly over the entire bottom.

As soon as the batter sets and becomes firm, turn it over with a spatula.  When the other side is firm, remoe the pan from the heat and transfer the wrapper to a platter.

Add 1/4 tsp of the butter to the pan, return to the heat, stir the batter in the bowl, and put 1/3 cup of it in the pan.  Cook as described above and repeat the operation until all the batter has been used up.  Stack the wrappers as they are done, one on top of the other.

Fazzoletti della Nonna col Ripieno di Fagiolini e Mozzarella
Baked Crepes with Green Beans and Mozzarella Stuffing
From Marcella's Italian Kitchen, by Marcella Hazan

3/4 lb fresh, young green beans
5 TBS butter, plus additional butter for smearing the baking dish
2 medium garlic cloves chopped very fine
1/2 lb mozzarella, preferably buffalo-milk (!) if available, otherwise whole-milk
2/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
A 9x12 inch oven-to-table baking dish or equivalent
The crepes from the basic fazzoletti recipe

Snap off the ends of the green beans and wash the beans in cold water.  Bring a pot of water to a boil, add 2 TBS of salt and when the water resumes boiling, drop in the green beans.  Cook until they are just tender but still firm to the bite.  Drain and cut into 1/3-inch lengths.

Put 3 TBS of butter and the chopped garlic in a saute pan and turn on the heat to medium.  When the garlic becomes colored a pale gold, add the cut-up green beans.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer the green beans ot a bowl.  Taste and correct for salt.

Grate the mozzarella on the large holes of a grater or chop very fine.  When the beans are cool, toss them with the grated mozzarella and half the grated Parmesan.

Turn on the oven to 450.

Butter the bottom and sides of the baking dish.

Lay a single crepe wrapper flat and spread over one-half of it about 2 to 2 1/2 TBS of the green beans and cheese stuffing.  Fold the bare half over the stuffing, making the edges meet.  Fold again in half, making a puffy triangle with 1 curved side.  Stand the triangle in the baking dish with the curved side down.  Proceed in this manner until all the fazoletti have been stuffed and placed in the dish, with the curved sides all facing down.

Sprinkle the remaining grated Parmesan over the fazoletti.  Dot with tiny dabs of the remaining 2 TBS of butter, making sure that there is 1 dab on the peak of each of the fazzoletti.

Bake in the uppermost level of the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes, until the top is speckled with a golden brown crust.  Remove from the oven and serve when the dish has settled for a few minutes.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

So Yeah. Italy.

When we drew Italy from the canister last year, we thought "Cool!  Food we know we like!  This'll be easy!!"  Turns out...nope.  We got a leaning tower of cookbooks, and found out that there are somewhere between a dozen and a bajillion regions in Italy, and they all have their own style of cooking.  And we had seven days -- obviously we weren't going to be tasting the entire country's cuisine.  (Hmm, Olive Garden and Fazoli's aren't looking too bad...)

So on Labor Day, (Monday) we had Involtini de Milano, Polenta w/Warm Cream & Gorgonzola and Roasted Apples w/Hazelnut.  Involtini, as near as makes no difference, are three-meat-meatloaf balls, wrapped in thinly pounded steak.  Yes, I said meatloaf balls wrapped in steak.  I like Italy.

So, while Angel mixed together the meat filling in a bowl, I cut up a steak and pounded it with the flat side of a meat-hammer until it was papery-thin, then Angel wrapped the meat with the meat.

Tri-Meat Filling
Steak for the Pounding
Assembling the Meat-Wads
Assembline the Meat-Wads

After assembly, the involtini were braised, then simmered in a tomato-based sauce with diced carrots, onions and garlic.

Calphalon Colorful

Meatloaf Balls, Wrapped in Steak

 Meanwhile, polenta was simmering on the stove.  You may have seen bricks of pre-made polenta in the grocery store, that you can just slice and heat.  That's about as much like polenta as Spam is like meat.  Polenta comes from corn meal, and traditionally is stirred, by hand, for 40 minutes, nonstop, while simmering.  The "easy" method lets it simmer in a closed pot for 50 minutes with occasional stirring -- which we conscripted our son to do for at least one 2-minute session.

And during all THAT, the dessert was also underway: Baked apples, cored and stuffed with a mixture of butter, sugar, bitter chocolate and chopped hazelnuts...soaked with sweet Marsala wine and sprinkled with sugar.

Baked Apples -- Assembled

Once done, dinner was presented as shown:

Steak-Wrapped Meatloaf ball on Polenta w/Gorgonzola, Cream and Tomato-based Sauce

 First, make a base of fresh, creamy polenta, then drizzle warm cream over it.  Top with several strips of fragrant gorgonzola cheese.  Lay an involtini on top, then cover with warm sauce.  And oh man, was it good.  The polenta was creamy and smooth, not gritty at all.  The gorgonzola added wonderful musty flavors to the rich, tomato-y sauce and the meaty meat, and a bite with all the flavors was heavenly.

The kids liked the meat.

Then, once dinner was over, we had the dessert.  I liked it.  The apple's fruitiness balanced the dark, dark chocolate, and the crunchy nuts complemented the soft, baked apple flesh.  We had mixed reviews from the family, but I liked it.

Baked Apple -- Cooked


Involtini di Milano
From Cooking with Italian Grandmothers, by Jessica Theroux

For the involtini rolls:
  • 4 oz ground pork
  • 2 oz ground chicken
  • 8 oz ground beef
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • 6 TBS plain bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black peper
  • 1 1/2 lbs raw slices beef top sirloin, 12-15 slices, pounded to 1/8" thickness and at least 2 1/2 - 3" in size
For the sauce:
  • 3 TBS olive oil
  • 3 whold cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup red or white wine
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1/2 tsp salt
To make the filling for the meat rolls, knead together the ground pork, chicken, beef, Parmesan, bread crumbs, eggs, parsley, salt, and black pepper.

Lay a slice of the beef top sirloin on a cutting board, and place a couple of spoonfuls of the filling at one end.  Roll the filling up into the beeff, making sure to tuck in the sides as you go.  Secure the roll with a toothpick skewered all the wya through the middle of the roll.  Repeat this procedure for the rest of the slices and filling.

For the sauce, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a wide pot until it starts to shimmer.  Brown the involtini in batches, on all sides, and set them aside on a plate when nicely caramelized.  Turn down the heat to medium, and saute the garlic cloves, onion, carrot, and bay leaves in the remaining oil.  Add the wine, screping loose any brown sticky bits from the bottom of the pan, and then the tomato puree, broth and salt.

Return the involtini and their juices to the pot, bring to a simmer, and cover with a lid set slightly ajar.  Simmer the meat rolls gently for about 1 1/2 hours, turning the involtini a few times during cooking.

Serve over Polenta with Warm Cream and Gorgonzola.

Polenta with Warm Cream and Gorgonzola
From Cooking with Italian Grandmothers, by Jessica Theroux 

For the polenta:
  • 10 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • spoonful of olive oil
  • 2 cups coarsely ground yellow polenta
For the warm cream and Gorgonzola:
  • 2 TBS (1/4 stick) salted butter
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 lb Gorgonzola cheese
Bring the  water to a rolling boil in a large, heavy pot.  Add the salt and a spoonful of olive oil.  Let the polenta slowly "rain" into the boiling water, whisking constantly.  Reduce the heat to a simmer.  Switch to a long-handled wooden spoon, and stir constantly along the bottom and sides of the pot.  The polenta is done when it pulls away from the side of the pot in one mass (about 40 minutes).  At this point it will have lost its graininess and become very fragrant.

For a less labor-intensive version of Mamma Maria's polenta, you can cover the pot with a lid during the cooking;  every 10 minutes, stir the polenta for a full 2 minutes.  It will be done in roughly 50 minutes.

Warm the butter and cream together in a saucepan set over low heat, whisking to combine.  Simmer for 5 minutes to slightly reduce and thicken.

To serve, ladle the polenta onto plates, spoon the warm cream sauce over it, place a slice of Gorgonzola on top and finish with the involtini and sauce.

Roasted Apples with Hazlenut, Bitter Chocolate, and Lemon Zest
From Cooking with Italian Grandmothers, by Jessica Theroux 
  • 6 firm baking apples (sch as Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Crispin or Pippin) 
  • 1/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) soft unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • 2 tsp finely grated or minced lemon zest
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • 2 oz (1/3 cup) chopped dark chocolate (I use 80% cocoa content)
  • 1 1/2 cups sweet Marsala wine, divided
Optional accompaniment: Softly whipped heavy cream, unsweetened

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter a small baking dish, roughly 8 by 10 inches.

Slice a thin layer off the bottom of the apples and discard; this levels the apples out so that they have a stable base upon which to stand during roasting.  Slice 1/2 inch off the tops of the apples and set the tops to one side.  Peel the apple bases.  Then, using a small teaspoon, scrape out an inch-diameter core from each apple, making sure not to cut through the bottom.

Mix otgether 3 TBS of the sugar with teh butter, lemon zest, hazelnuts, and chocolate.  Spoon this filling into the center of the apples, mounding any extra on top.  Drizzle the exposed apples with the 3/4 cup of the Marsala, and cover them with their tops.  Pour the rest of the Marsala over the apples and sprinkle htem with the remaining 1 TBS sugar.

Bake for 45 minutes, basting the apples with the hot Marsala a few times during heir roasting.  The apples are done when a toothpick can be inserted into them easily.  Server warm, with Marsala spooned over the apples and whipped cream on the side.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ciao. How *You* Doin'?

It's happened...we've traveled to Italy, and ELTW is back.  We're eating at Olive Garden, and Fazoli's, and the Macaroni Grill, and --

-- I'm kidding, though it might've been cheaper to just eat out every day this week.  We have a new country, new recipes, new ELTW kitchen, new sources for ingredients.  I should almost call this blog "Eating Like The World, Version 2.0."

So yeah.  As I've said before, we've moved from Michigan to Florida, and from rural nowhere to suburban Tampa.  I'm not so sure we like our new kitchen more than the old one -- it has more counter space, and a gas range instead of electric, but it doesn't seem to work quite as well.  Or maybe it does, and I'm just a grouch.  Anyway, here's a shot of the kitchen midway through cooking Monday's meal:

The "New" ELTW Kitchen

Another large change for is moving to a metropolitan area.  There are something over a million people in the Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater area, compared to the 50,000 or so in the 100 miles around us in northern Michigan.  What does that mean to ELTW?  Food stores!  We don't have to cruise the interwebs in search of odd ingredients, and hope they arrive in time
to be useful.  No, there's enough diversity in the area to support ethnic food markets, where we can see, feel and smell the ingredients we're buying.  It's a cool evolution of our project.

Our first such foray was to Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Petersburg. (St. Pete from here on, because that's what the locals call it...)  We went on a Saturday when they were hosting wine and beer tasting, so the market was absolutely NUTS.  5th Avenue in NYC on Black Friday kind of nuts.  At one point I had to separate from my family to make a surgical strike on the pasta flour aisle, because the six of us would never have made it there and back alive.

Mazzaro's Market

It was worth it, though.  We got smoked mozzarella.  We got fresh fennel.  And prosciutto, and pasta flour, and wine.  And more wine.  We rocked the place.  The free wine helped.

Fiat Wannabe

An interesting personal connection that we have with Italy is that I was there when I was a kid.  When I was 7, Dow Chemical sent my dad to Europe for 6 months; mom and I joined him for three of them.  We lived in Germany, and traveled to Holland, Switzerland, Italy and Sicily in our green Opel.  Here's me with Dad south of Genoa.

Dad and Me, Genoa, 1977

It was an interesting time.  Seeing Rome and Milan as a seven-year-old is a life-changing experience.  You don't remember the same things as an adult, but you remember them forever.  I'm proud to have seen Pompeii, between its volcanic buryings:

Me, in Pompeii, 1977

And there's really no explanation needed for the next pic -- although what I remember most is that mom wouldn't let me climb the tower, because the walkway was around the outside, and there was only a single chain to keep people from falling to their death.  Hey, it was 1977.

Dad in Pisa, 1977

So I'll sign off here, and start putting up our week's experiences some time when it's not close to my bed-time.