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Kevin72

A year of Italian cooking

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Well, the first one is to get my wife to like lamb.

But the one I'm referring to is that I've decided that I'm going to devote each month of the year to only cooking from one region of Italy. This mostly applies to dinners and occasionally lunches (i.e., soups and such). There are some exceptions here and there, but I'm going to try to stick to it as much as possible. Couple this with trying to do the typical seafood and vegetable-only Lent and I think I've laid down a little challenge for myself! My cookbook library is almost 90% Italian with several regional-specific books in there as well, as well as a host of old Molto Mario's I've taped, so I'm doing well in the reference department.

So first up is Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. Chief references are the MM tapes, Plotkin's Terra Fortunata (a Christmas gift), and various Friuli chapters in other cookbooks.

I haven't been able to stick exclusively to it thus far as we've had Holiday leftover meals. But here's what I've managed to make so far:

>An "antipasto" meal mostly from Plotkin's book of radicchio and prosciutto "wallets", broiled scallops with horseradish, and crostini with an apple, ricotta, and chive spread.

>Chestnut, potato, and cabbage soup

>Musetto with vinegar and polenta: Musetto is a sausage product made largely of the face and particularly snout of a pig. Everything I've read says that its closest resemblance is cotechino, which I just *happen* to have sitting around! :laugh: Sliced up the leftover cotechino, seared them in a pan, deglazed with red wine vinegar. I dry-toasted some polenta in a pan first and then made it in the usual method (I seem to only be able to find instant, not that I'm complaining).

This weekend I'm doing a lamb and horseradish dish "braised backwards" from Darrow and Maresca's Tavola Italiana book. Accompanying it will either be pappardelle or gnocchi with poppyseeds, Montasio cheese, and Prosciutto San Daniele, and sweet and sour beets. I haven't decided what the other night's dish will be yet.

So, thoughts? Recommendations? Is this worth keeping a running commentary on here?

Edit: Has anybody ever done this? Do you generally stick to one "region" of Italian cooking, or ever cook meals entirely from one area? Any favorite or intriguing regions of Italy you'd like to know more about?


Edited by Kevin72 (log)

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Gee, I'd think this is more geeky than nerdy. :laugh: But I'd love to hear more about what you prepare, where you find the recipes -- and the ingredients. Of course, you'll have to be prepared for debate as to whether the dish is REALLY from wherever, how "authentic" it is or how allowable your substitution, etc. etc.

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Gee, I'd think this is more geeky than nerdy.  :laugh:  But I'd love to hear more about what you prepare, where you find the recipes -- and the ingredients. Of course, you'll have to be prepared for debate as to whether the dish is REALLY from wherever, how "authentic" it is or how allowable your substitution, etc. etc.

Oooh, that's what I'm hoping for! :laugh::biggrin:

And geeky or nerdy was a tossup for me.

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So, thoughts? Recommendations?  Is this worth keeping a running commentary on here?

Kevin, definitely! A year of Italian cooking? Why would we want to miss that? Although, to cover all the regions in Italy you'd need 20 months, maybe 18 taking Piemonte plus Val d'Aosta and Abbruzzi and Molise respectively as one region... but I'm not complaining :biggrin:.

My greatest respect to you for embarking on such a task, I doubt I would manage to keep such a resolution.

Suggestions - Having lived near Trieste for two years I would take the following as musts of the regional cuisine of Friuli Venezia Giulia:

Jota Triestina, Frico, Cialzons, Dumplings filled with plums or apricots (the same one finds in Austria), Gubana or Pinza if you want to do some baking (though being Easter cakes, you might want to skip these), grilled meats (there's a strong Slovenian and Croatian influence in the border areas so cevapcici and raznici are among the local specialities), Brodetto... I could go on :wink:


Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.

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What fun!

Now for the questions:

a) how/where are you going to get the ingredients?

b) where are you posting from?

c) what on earth is backwards braising?? My imagination is running wild! :biggrin:

d) do you have a camera? :smile: photos would be nice.

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A) and B) I live in Plano, TX. Luckily I live within 10 minutes of a Whole Foods and a Central Market, so ingredient-wise, I don't think I'll be too put off.

C) I don't have the book handy, but from what I recall, you place everything (liquid, aromatics, meat) in the pot at once, bring to a simmer, and cook the liquid completely away, even to the point where the meat and aromatics glaze and brown in the residual sugars left in the pot. Garnish with horseradish and serve over polenta. This was the standout dish of the whole cookbook; it blew my mind, too, when I first read it. It's the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the book.

D). As luck would have it we did get a digital camera for Christmas. We're still figuring it out but I'll try and get pics up here when I can!

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Alberto:

I'd imagine controversy #1 will be what regions get left out, with 12 months and 21 regions. First consideration in what stays or goes is what info I have on-hand or know is out there.

I know Piemonte and Lombardia are well-thought of on this board but neither have made the initial cut. Though I am strongly considering Piemonte as a holdover for next January. I've only seen one cookbook on Piemonte and it was braise after braise after braise. I may cheat a little and do combos of two regions, though: for example I'm considering a Calabria/Basilicata combo for one of the summer months, though again neither have been given much in-depth attention in the cookbook world.

For your recommended dishes:

Jota is definitely on the menu in the next few weeks, though it will be heavily tweaked (I'll save that debate for when I cook it though! :wink:). Hopefully it will get cold enough here to really hit the spot, though it's entirely likely it will be served with the pleasant hum of the AC in the background :hmmm:

I made a brodetto-like soup for New Year's eve at my parents. My understanding of the Trieste version of brodetto is that it must include eel, though, correct? That's not so readily available, and I'm not so sure I'm willing to go through what you're supposed to when you do get them.

Gubana should show up at some point. I made it a few years ago and liked it.

Plotkin's writeup on the grilled meats is definitely intriguing and I may try them as well. Interestingly enough I read that chapter and then went to a place here in Dallas that serves Pizza and Croatian food (long story), but both of the items you mentioned were on the menu!

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I made a brodetto-like soup for New Year's eve at my parents.  My understanding of the Trieste version of brodetto is that it must include eel, though, correct?  That's not so readily available, and I'm not so sure I'm willing to go through what you're supposed to when you do get them.

I have to admit I never made brodetto on my own and that the sheer amount of Bordetto-recipes you can find along the northern Adriatic coastline has always confused me. Last time I made brodetto with some friends from the Trieste area I don't seem to recall any eel used. There where many different small cheap fishes, often sold as soup fishes in Italy, though the choice could have been influenced by our being students with rather empty pockets. I do recall though that one of the guys cooking made rather a fuss about using at least some of those small hairy rock crabs. He insisted they where fundamental for the flavor; we walked to the nearby beach, which had plenty of rocks, and catched a few ourselves.

What are you supposed to do with the eels?


Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.

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Hat's off Kevin - I've never managed to stick to a one-week planned cooking regime - let alone a whole year!

Hope you are not planning to leave Sicily out - remember we now know where you live... :biggrin: Of course one could argue that Sicily itself should be divided into regions since what they cook in Palermo/Trapani is quite different from what gets done in Siracusa/Ragusa/Catania - still that would be taking it a bit TOO far.

Have fun and please keep us updated.


Edited by katiaANDronald (log)

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KatiaandRonald:

Sicily will be up sometime in the summer (that's right folks I've already mapped out most of the year!)

Alberto: Ore's thread talks a little about handling eels--apparently they suffocate them in vinegar. The other method is to nail their head to a board, and skin them alive. Not sure why but that's repeatedly come up in a number of books that mention cooking eel.

I'm going to try posting first pics of a meal next. I apologize in advance if I somehow crash the site in my ineptitude.

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Looks like it worked!!! :biggrin:

On the left, the meat item is a modification of cevapcici (guess Alberto's suggestion buried itself in my mind). Cevapcici are a grilled, skewered sausage item made of lamb, pork, beef, and I added nutmeg, ground clove, and ginger (recipe called for mace and I didn't have any on-hand). The dipping sauce right above them is salsa di yogurt e aneto--yogurt-dill sauce for dipping the meat in (though my wife said it was good in the potato dish as well). To the right is potato goulash--potatoes, onions, green peppers simmered with tomato paste and ample amounts of paprika.

I was a little disappointed in the spicing of the sausages--the exotic flavors didn't come through enough. But everything else was tasty. With it we drank a Hungarian red called Bull's Blood; I figured it would go better with the more overtly Hungarian flavors of the meal.

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Great posts (inspired me to get out my Friuli/Venezia Plotkin book again, which I admit I haven't looked at much since I bought it a couple yrs ago), mouthwatering picture.

But please oh please reconsider Piemonte --- many braises yes ... but also acciughe al verde (my personal addiction :wub: ), various veggie sformato with fonduta or bagna cauda, bagna cauda on its own with raw veggies, vitello tonato, anything with porcini (salsa for tagliatelle, perhaps?), chicche (tiny sort-of-gnocchi), etc. Pastas with hazelnut or walnut sauce, agnolotti ... And the desserts! Chocolate budino, pears in wine, panna cotta, hazelnut torte... And much more.

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I am impressed with the use youghurt - so it does exist in Italian cooking :smile: I have to say that the one thing that Ronald of katiaANDronald misses terribly in Sicily is proper youghurt - coming from Cyprus where it is produced in all its wonderful forms I just cannot stand what is available in Sicily - runny, diet-focused chemical mixes that have nothing to do with youghurt.

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I am impressed with the use youghurt - so it does exist in Italian cooking  :smile:

It does indeed. AltoAdige/Sudtyrol produces some delicious yoghurt... though one could discuss whether the local cooking is Italian or Austrian, strictly speaking.

In Sardinia there's a pretty tasty ewe's milk yoghurt-like product called called gioddu.

Weird as it may seem, Italian yoghurt, the commercial, additive laden stuff, is really popular here in Germany, where you can nonetheless easily find perfectly good Greek/Turkish style yoghurt. Go figure.


Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.

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Sunday's meal:

Primo: Pasuticce (sp?) with Prosciutto San Daniele, Poppyseeds, and Montegrappa cheese.

Secondo: Lamb "braised backwards" with brown butter and horseradish served atop toasted polenta; sweet and sour beets.

Pasuticce are a variation on pappardelle, the wide, ribbon noodles usually seen in Emilia Romagna and Tuscany. After they are rolled out and cut into pappardelle, you go through and cut them again on the diagonal. Here's a pic of them rolled out and cut, ready to go: gallery_19696_582_1105370381.jpg

I used Lidia Bastianich's book La Cucina di Lidia as point of reference, but please don't mistake my sloppy cutting as the real item! :laugh:

Sauced them with a little reduced broth and butter. Put half of the total poppyseeds and prosciutto into the broth/butter as it reduced. Tossed the pasta once cooked with this mixture, then garnished with chives, more poppyseeds, prosciutto San Daniele, and coarsely grated Montegrappa cheese. Central Market was out of Montasio, which would have been the cheese normally called for.

gallery_19696_582_1105370433.jpg

The main was the aforementioned lamb "braised backwards", from Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca's excellent regional treatise, La Tavola Italiana. Indeed, you put everything in the pot at once: meat, aromatics, fat, and liquid, bring to a boil, cover and cook for half an hour over lowered heat. Then you remove the lid and raise the heat a little and cook the liquid completely away, and the meat and aromatics glaze and brown a little. The meat stayed firm almost the entire time, but right when the sauce was evaporating it miraculously became meltingly tender. Serve over polenta and top with browned butter and horseradish. I'm sorry I didn't get a "before and after" shot of the meat as it cooked in the pot, but here's the finished product, ready to serve:

gallery_19696_582_1105370486.jpg

No picture of the sweet and sour beets, another recipe from Plotkin. Roast the beets until tender, peel and cube them, then cook them with a little butter, vinegar, sugar, and water (only a few tablespoons of each). Meanwhile, slice some onion into thin rings and steam it for a few minutes to get rid of the raw, harsh bite. Plotkin calls for the onions to be ladled onto a plate and the beets put on top but I just stirred them together and served. The sweet and sour wasn't as pronunced as it is in other agrodolce dishes, but then it probably shouldn't be for a contorno.

So my wife did indeed enjoy the lamb after I had aggressively trimmed off the fat, the source of the meat's lamb-y, gamey flavor. As with the cevapcici from Saturday, though, a key ingredient kind of lost its flavor in the muddle: the horseradish lost some of its pungency in the browned butter. Next time I would grate fresh, raw horseradish over the whole dish in addition to the browned butter/horseradish sauce. Also, I'd part with the recipe instructions to cook the liquid from the braise completely away and instead leave just a little concentrated sauce.

Off topic:

I've noticed the pictures seem to stretch the frames a little. Any way to reduce them? Also, is there any way to upload images for posts directly from a hard disk? Currently I'm having to load them into my photo album on egullet and then post the URL from there.

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Kevin, I have Matt Kramer's "A Passion for Piedmont" (I hate that title), only bec when I was looking for a Piemonte cookbook a few yrs ago it was all I could find. I don't know what else is available now. But I've gotten very good results with it, good enough to (sort of) satisfy the wistful nostalgia for Piemonte that seems to hang on for about 3-4 months after our yearly visit.

Otherwise --- the photo of the pasuticce has got me drooling. How lucky your wife is .... and how lucky you are to have access to all the ingredients needed to implement your plan! I am envious.... keep the posts coming pls!

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excellent recipes kevin - I am now hungry - very very hungry :biggrin:

(or is it just craving- i never can tell...). :unsure:

i don't think there is a way to link pictures directly while typing a post unfortunately (perhaps alberto can check with the powers that be).

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Kevin those pasuticce are making me hungry! I'll have a go at them on the weekend.

About the picture info: you can reduce your pictures, but you'll have to do that on your computer before posting the images. And no, unfortunately there is no way to post the images directly from hard disk.


Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.

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I'm wondering if Speck (smoked prosciutto) would have gone well in the pasuticce? I'm led to believe that it's "lightly" smoked but the product I get here is from Austria and tends to dominate whatever dish it's in. Anyways, that's a possible alternate.

Bastianish also says that you can make the pasuticce into "fuzi" by wrapping them around the handle of a wooden spoon, but that was too much effort even for me.

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Ate out a couple of times last week, so the first new meal was cooked on 01/16.

Menu:

Antipasto: Frico--Plain, "Stuffed" with Bacon, "Stuffed" with chopped pickle

Primo: "Gnocchi di Cjalson"

Secondo: Prosciutto in crosta; braised cabbage with cumin

Dolce: Baked pear custard

Frico are a cheese crisp. Coarsley grated montasio cheese is sprinkled in a little pile on a hot griddle. The cheese melts and browns; then you flip it and cook it briefly just to set the other side. Other versions call for a longer cooking time and you virtually coat the bottom of a small skillet with the cheese and cook and melt it slowly. To stuff them you sprinkle the filling over a bottom layer of cheese, then a little more cheese on top. Let it melt and brown a little and flip. The pickle ones were the favorite.

gallery_19696_582_1105968994.jpg

Gnocchi di cjalson are a modification of cjalson, a festive stuffed pasta. Historically, they were made to herald the return of a village's shepherds and tradesmen, who returned from the mountains with pockets full of herbs and exotic spices that then went into the pasta filling (Plotkin does a much better job explaining their history than I just did). An unbelievable number of separate ingredients goes into the filling--Plotkin lists twenty-two!--I just picked a few highlights that I had on hand. While they are traditionally a stuffed pasta, I did a lot of stuffed pastas over the holidays and still have a few coming up that I know about, and am a little tired of the production. On his show, Mario Batali has made them more as a gnocchi, which I find much more accessible and less time consuming. In my gnocchi di cjalson: chocolate, cinnamon, chives, nutmeg, pear, potato, ricotta, flour, egg, orange and lemon zests.

Here they are rolled out:

gallery_19696_582_1105968467.jpg

And here they are. sauced with butter, broth, a pinch of sugar, and ample roasted ricotta:

gallery_19696_582_1105969429.jpg

Roasted ricotta is a great little find. Very delicate, sweet, and almost has its own chocolatey, cinnamon-y flavor.

Very unusual dish, to say the least. Not sweet and yet not savory. You think it wouldn't work at all but the spices are added in such small amounts that they don't dominate, and the potato goes a long way towards making it much more savory in flavor.

For the main, it was "Prosciutto in Crosta": Ham baked in a crust. Traditionally it's a whole ham, but I just bought a large slice of precooked, French-style ham; my local store normally carried Prosciutto Cotto from Italy but were out at the time. The crust is a yeasted dough with chopped rosemary, lard, and butter. I chose to garnish it with browned butter, grated apple, and horseradish, which worked very well.

The contorno was braised cabbage and cumin, and the two take quite well to each other.

gallery_19696_582_1105969902.jpg

I would have taken a picture of it cut up, but I baked the crust a little too long and it fell apart when you went in to serve it.

Likewise, no pic of dessert, a baked pear custard, which also fell apart flipping it out of the pan.

Wine-wise I've been trying to track down Tocai, the famous Friuli white, with little luck, except some pricey bottles at my local store, and I'm too much of a swigging drink kind of guy to justify the expense and appreciate the subtleties found in the higher range bottles. Interesting Tocai note: Plotkin relates that the EU has dictated that starting in 2006, the name "tocai" will be exlcusively granted to Hungary and their sweet dessert wine, "tockay". Tocai from Friuli will now be called "Furlan" after their local dialect. So I guess those bottles out there with "Tocai" on their labels are collector's items now! :biggrin:

We also finished with slivovitz, a plum brandy from Slovenia, right next door to Friuli.

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