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A year of Italian cooking


Kevin72
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I “borrowed” a day from August and cooked the final Sicily meal last night.

I had to back up my last antipasto statement and prove that they’re not always fried, and did a second caponata, this time of artichokes.

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Spooned over Pane Siciliano, the sesame-studded bread of the island.

The secondo was a dish heavily modified from the Islands in the Sun cookbook, chicken braised with lemons and almonds.

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I make no claims to Sicilian authenticity with this dish, but I can’t imagine it being too off-base after incorporating the island’s famous almonds and citrus fruit in one dish. As an accompaniment, I made sweet couscous (stir sugar in with the water as it comes to a simmer) to cut the tartness of the chicken dish.

The final Sicilian dessert was gele di melone, watermelon “pudding”. Watermelon is pureed, strained to remove the pulp, then the juice is cooked with cornstarch, cinnamon, and rosewater until it sets up into a viscous state. Divide up into glasses or a jello mold and it will completely set in the fridge.

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How many pastry chefs have spontaneously combusted after looking at the atrocities to their craft on display this past month?

So the recipe called for you to stir in chocolate chips once it’s cooled off a little to mimic “seeds”. I guess I got the Redi-Melt® brand, because even though it had cooled sufficiently, the chips instantly liquefied when they hit the pudding base, giving it that rather unpleasant color. Still, it was very good: my wife called it "mysterious". In fact she's used that descriptor a couple of times this month, an excellend adjective for Sicily, I think. Give this dessert a shot; it's a prime example of something you'd never think would work but the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts here.

Well, that’s Sicily. An absolute blast this month; I definitely accomplished my mission to really explore this unique place more thoroughly and could easily go another six months cooking this way. It’s probably in my top 3 regional cuisines now.

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And I do hope there will be cuccia.

Who knew ricotta was so easy? I'm inspired.

I'm struggling to recall what cuccia is.

After doing a Googlesearch for “cuccia”, I’ve found that it is a dish of pounded grains cooked with chocolate and candied fruits. I did a similar dish from Puglia back in May.. It was certainly, ummm, evocative, that’s for sure. But my fat decadent American palate just doesn’t reach for that at the end of a meal.

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Pesto Pantesco (sp?) hails from the island of Pantelleria, where Italy’s best capers are reputed to come from. 

Don't let anybody from the Aeolian islands hear you say that

:biggrin:

Or Sardegna, or Puglia, or . . . :biggrin:

The food looks great Kevin, I have really enjoyed the Sicilian installment. When are you coming to Edinburgh?

Tell you what: for your next fantastic travel-logue, we head out to Umbria and use Hathor's place as a base of operations . . .

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Last night we started with panelle, which, as chufi mentioned on the previous page, are fritters made of chickpea flour.  You bring some water to a simmer, then pour in chickpea flour and stir until it thickens.  Then pour into a container and place in the fridge until it sets up.  Cut them into squares and deep-fry them, dust with cheese.  Holy cats, they're addictive.

Did you go ahead and use the Indian chickpea flour for your panelle? In his new book, Mario Batali specifically says not to use the Indian flour, only flour from Italy. I don't know what the difference would be.

Edited by bursell (log)
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Kevin,

Delightful thread! I just sat and read the whole thing from the beginning. Your photography has also improved greatly. My husband has been learning Italian and wants to go to Italy either this winter or next spring.

And I love hathor's comments and standard "So, Kevin, what's for dinner tonight??"

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I prefer the Granita di cocomero, ( watermelon granita) to the gelo.. check out my foto on my site. the chocolate chip seeds are great!

Watermelon Granita

August 10th is the Notte di San Lorenzo and the Mercato Centrale of Florence, called MErcato San Lorenzo celebrates!

San Lorenzo ( Saint Lawrence, also as in Toronto's market) was grilled to death.. martyred!!

so one of the Patron Saints of cooks!

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Did you go ahead and use the Indian chickpea flour for your panelle?  In his new book, Mario Batali specifically says not to use the Indian flour, only flour from Italy.  I don't know what the difference would be.

I hadn't noticed that. Actually, I don't think it's either one. This was bulk "garbanzo flour" from Whole Foods. I'm not sure what the difference betw. Italian and Indian flour would be, either.

Kevin,

Delightful thread!  I just sat and read the whole thing from the beginning.  Your photography has also improved greatly.  My husband has been learning Italian and wants to go to Italy either this winter or next spring.

And I love hathor's comments and standard "So, Kevin, what's for dinner tonight??"

Thanks! Keep us posted on where you're going!

And yeah, it just wouldn't be a post if hathor didn't weigh in . . . :biggrin:

I prefer the Granita di cocomero, ( watermelon granita) to the gelo.. check out my foto on my site. the chocolate chip seeds are great!

Watermelon Granita

August 10th is the Notte di San Lorenzo and the Mercato Centrale of Florence, called MErcato San Lorenzo celebrates!

San Lorenzo ( Saint Lawrence, also as in Toronto's market) was grilled to death.. martyred!!

so one of the Patron Saints of cooks!

Ah, the morbid Italian humor at play.

Watermelon granita is definitely one of my favorites as well, and oh so easy. But I had to give this a try.

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Your food continues to look great and be motivating. I am a big fan of the pesto pantesco. I assume you picked this up from Batali? It is such a clean bright sauce that I think it makes a perfect summer pasta for al fresco dining on a hot day. If you get a chance, how about a photo of your italian cookbook library. I've been looking at my library and local used shops for some of the things you have mentioned and would love to see your total collection.

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Your food continues to look great and be motivating.  I am a big fan of the pesto pantesco.  I assume you picked this up from Batali?  It is such a clean bright sauce that I think it makes a perfect summer pasta for al fresco dining on a hot day.  If you get a chance, how about a photo of your italian cookbook library.  I've been looking at my library and local used shops for some of the things you have mentioned and would love to see your total collection.

Yep, Batali's recipe indeed. I love the creamy texture the tomato gives the sauce when it emulsifies in.

The cookbook library's packed away at the moment but I'll try and get one up once I'm settled in. And, at Divina's suggestion, I'll be doing a bibliography after the project's wrapped up.

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Final Sicily note: if you make your own caponata, let it sit at least a day. Not that the artichoke caponata wasn’t good enough the first night, but after a few days in the fridge when we warmed it up for leftovers, the vinegar wasn’t so assertive an element and everything had blended together seamlessly.

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For August, I’m doing the first regional double-header: the humble, fiery foods of Calabria and Basilicata, forming the “toe” and the “arch” of The Boot, respectively.

In doing two regions in one month, I am not in any way trying to imply that their cuisines are limited or interchangeable. It’s just that I’m woefully uninformed on them both as there is so little cooking literature out there. There’s Cucina di Calabria by Mary Amabile Palmer, and cookbooks on Basilicata are nonexistent, as far as I know.

This is also a full month for us: we’re moving into our first house next weekend and we’re going out of town for a wedding the last weekend of August. So I won’t get a chance to cook as extensively as normal, but again, this is not meant to be any kind of reflection on their respective cuisines.

Cucina di Calabria begins with a heartbreaking historical account of not just Calabria, but all of the mezzogiorno (the regions south of Rome: Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, Sicily, and Calabria) and their generations of oppression at the hands of one group or another. She details the massive immigration wave from Italy to the U.S. in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, which included her grandparents, and the families torn apart and left behind as a result. Throughout the rest of the book are essays on the cuisine (coming closer to the end, when it would have made more sense to include it in the introduction), travel and geography of Calabria, and various traditions, songs, dances, and stories. At first I thought that a lot of the recipes were just the same old, same old, but then I realized they all seemed so familiar because Calabrians (Calabrese?) formed the largest percentage of Italians coming to America in that turn of the 20th Century Immigration wave. (Did I hear that here, on eGullet?) So a lot of Italian-American mainstays are Calabrese in origin.

So that will be the main new reference material this month, other than the usuals (although Mario Batali never did shows or many recipes on these two regions). So to make up for such a thin month, anybody can, as usual, share their own experiences or upbringing in Calabria and Basilicata. :smile:

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Saturday night we had a meal from Basilicata. As references on this region are so very few, it definitely gets the short end of the stick and as of right now I only have two meals from this region planned for the month.

Calabria and Basilicata are two of the poorest (economically) regions of all of Italy. In doing more research on these areas, I have to reiterate what I had said when asked about them a few months ago: they have notoriously difficult soil and so lack the abundance and range of vegetables that Puglia, Campania, and Sicily have. This is not to say that they don’t grow them or that there aren’t traditional vegetable dishes: Mary Amabile Palmer, in Cucina di Calabria, acknowledges the difficult soil, but then goes on to say that it makes vegetables even more dear to their hearts: they have to make the very most of what they get out of the ground.

Where was I going with this? Oh yes. Well, what can grow, and abundantly, in these two regions are chilies, and they figure prominently into the cuisine: both are considered the spiciest regions of all of Italy, as well. And all those chilies serve another purpose: with so much going on in each dish, you feel more satisfied, even if you’re eating less.

So, with several antacid tablets already lining my stomach and a couple more on standby, we plunged in.

Primo: Bucatini with chili paste.

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When I realized that I had so little to go by in way of cooking references for Basilicata, I rushed to the store to see what was out there. I did a little skimming through Rusitco, by Micol Negrin (and will purchase it soon). Here’s another cookbook that outlines each region of Italy and then gives some dishes from it. I remembered the title but not much in the way of preparation or ingredients, so I may not be doing it much justice.

But here’s how I prepared it: taking a tip from the famous Mexican cuisine chef Rick Bayless, I pan-toasted some sweet dried chilies (pasilla and I can’t remember the other kind; they are the two on the left in the pic below) in a skillet, then tossed them into the boiling water that would be used for the pasta. Let them reconstitute for half an hour, then put them in a blender with a fresh jalapeno, garlic, and basil, along with some of the soaking water (the rest was brought back to a boil and used to cook the pasta in) and olive oil to make a paste. Cook the bucatini the full package time, then toss with the paste and serve. Oooh boy, did it sting.

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These are the various types of chilies I’ll be using this month. The two on the left are a sweeter, dried kind commonly used in Mexican cooking. The third kind are chile de arbol, a spicy pepper that is stands in for the Italian peperoncino. One will give a dish a nice, pleasant tickle, two will definitely give it a kick. The last is a spicy fresh red pepper, I forget the name.

The secondo were patties of Lucanian sausage. Calabria and especially Basilicata are renowned for their love of pork and have particular skill in making various salumi and fresh sausages. Basilicata’s original name was Lucania, and it has been postulated that their fresh sausage, called Lucanica, is a forerunner of the famous Luganega sausages, sold in one long coil as opposed to twisted into links. I don’t have a meat grinder and sausage extruder (yet!) and so I have to make the sausage into patties:

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It’s hard to see much similarity in ingredients between this product and Luganega. Lucanian sausage, or at least this recipe, is mixed with ginger, ample chilies, and red wine; Luganega is sweet and mild, lacking even the ubiquitous fennel seeds.

With the grilled sausages we had wild mushrooms (trumpet and shiitake) braised with chilies, red wine, and tomato paste.

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So, yeah, chilies in every dish last night. We definitely did feel “full” afterwards, were blanketed in sweat, and even a little dazed and dizzy from all the spice. This is going to be fun!

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Sunday, I made various Calabrese breads:

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The two loaves on the left are Pane Calabrese from Cucina di Calabria. On the right is pitta. In Cucina di Calabria, Mary Amabile Palmer describes pitta as a stuffed pizza similar to a calzone. In Culinaria: Italy, it is a large, baked ring, sliced and then topped in a variety of ways. This is the version I went with, and topped it with some grilled tomatoes, green onion, and dried oregano:

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Another antipasto for Sunday night were fritters of roasted eggplant.

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Prick whole eggplants with a fork and then grill until nearly collapsing. Strip away the peels and then mash together with red pepper, garlic, bread crumbs, eggs, flour, and cheese. Deep fry and serve; I went with leftover chili paste from the previous night and pecorino. I found them unpleasantly soft in the middle, and was worried they’d be like the ill-fated fritters when I did Liguria that absorbed all that oil.

The main was grilled fish (opa) from Marlena di Blasi’s Flavors of Southern Italy cookbook. This is a modification of a recipe for swordfish, wherein the fillets are marinated in red wine, then drained and blotted dry. Meanwhile, you make a flavored oil with chilies, garlic, and bay leaves and let it steep while the fish marinates. Once the fillets are drained and dried, you massage in half the oil and toss them on the grill. When they are done, remove and set them in the remainder of the flavored oil and let them soak it up for a little while, then serve, preferably with more bread to mop up all the oil and juices.

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Kevin, your bread baking is getting better and better. Kudos! Is there a difference between the dough of the two breads? From your picture the pitta's dough seems slightly dark: any wholewheat or other flour there?

... and I could just kill for that fish :smile: .

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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Prick whole eggplants with a fork and then grill until nearly collapsing.  Strip away the peels and then mash together with red pepper, garlic, bread crumbs, eggs, flour, and cheese.  Deep fry and serve; I went with leftover chili paste from the previous night and pecorino. I found them unpleasantly soft in the middle, and was worried they’d be like the ill-fated fritters when I did Liguria that absorbed all that oil. 

Kevin, I do an aubergine fritter that sounds exactly the same, only I form then into thin patties and shallow fry. That way you don't get as much of the gooey soft stuff in the middle. I sometimes layer them in a baking this after frying, cover with some tomatosauce and cheese, and bake for a bit until warmed through.

That swordfish looks very good, you can see it soaked up a lot of that red wine :smile:

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Kevin, your bread baking is getting better and better. Kudos! Is there a difference between the dough of the two breads? From your picture the pitta's dough seems slightly dark: any wholewheat or other flour there?

... and I could just kill for that fish  :smile: .

Thanks! The pitta is, indeed, whole wheat. It's based on Culinaria: Italy and there's a picture of it in there where it looks like it's made from wheat, so that's what I went with. I also experimented with trying to "bake" it on a pan over the grill to give it a more smoky flavor, but the interior wasn't getting hot enough and I finished it in the oven. Didn't pick up any of the smoke, either, that I could tell.

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Kevin, I do an aubergine fritter that sounds exactly the same, only I form then into thin patties and shallow fry. That way you don't get as much of the gooey soft stuff in the middle. I sometimes layer them in a baking this after frying, cover with some tomatosauce and cheese, and bake for a bit until warmed through.

That swordfish looks very good, you can see it soaked up a lot of that red wine  :smile:

Well, here again we're thinking the same. I wondered afterwards if a shallow pan-fry would've worked better. That sounds like a very clever variation on eggplant parmigano there! :biggrin:

I used opa to stand in for the swordfish and it starts out a little darker-fleshed, but the wine flavor did carry through nicely. A little overcooked (seems like opa and mahi mahi are both prone to dry out easily when cooking) but sitting in the oil bath helped it a little.

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I used opa to stand in for the swordfish and it starts out a little darker-fleshed, but the wine flavor did carry through nicely.  A little overcooked (seems like opa and mahi mahi are both prone to dry out easily when cooking) but sitting in the oil bath helped it a little.

ah yes. I should have read that the first time. And it should have caught my attention, because I've never heard of the fish opa, and opa is actually the dutch word for grandfather... :shock:

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I spent three days in Matera earlier this year.  Ate in three different places evenings.  All featured a mixed grille of pork, lamb and kid or boar.  Can't forget the aglianico, though.

I'm definitely on the lookout for Aglianico (the famous red wine from Basilicata). I know I've seen it somewhere around here but now I can't remember where. Had to "settle" for a primitivo from neighboring Puglia and it was really good. Any more thoughts on Basilicata?

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You can get Aglianico at Winesearcher or Winezap. I drank no other wine in Basilicata and the prices varied from 6E to 90E (at aclassier restaurant).

BTW, a really nice and inexpensive Primitivo is A Mano, The winery was covered in the NYTimes a few months ago. One of the guys is US and they don't grow the grapes, rather they purchase them locally, apparently with great success because they pay cash on the barrelhead (so to speak) unlike most of the local producers who dangle the growers' payment. A Manno can be bought at the above places, too at under ten bucks.

Whil I felt Basilicata was not as varied nor interesting as Puglia, Matera is mystical. The sassi (previously abandoned cave dwellings) are incredibly densly packed in the center of the city. They are now being restored and gentrified. We stayed in a lovely hotel in the sassi and truly enjoyed the time.

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