Italian Soups: Stock, Broth... or Water?

IMG_8635In my cooking classes and private dinners here in Umbria, my students & clients are always shocked to hear that the main ingredient in my soups is, well.... good old-fashioned pipe stock.... otherwise known as... water!

Most Italian regional cooking, especially that of Umbria, is a very rustic, peasant style cooking, and making stock just doesn't fit into that equation.  Stocks are part of French haute cuisine, which is what most chefs (especially those on TV) learned as their base in cooking school... and therefore, it is what they preach to everyone at home.  Not that there is anything wrong with that... but it's not Italian!

Stock is when we put bones and vegetables in cold water (no salt), bring it to a boil and then let simmer for a few hours until all of the meaty essence is leached from the bones.  Stock can then either be reduced to form a glace (French) or added to sauce bases (again, French) and soups.  But you will hard pressed to find an Italian recipe calling for stock! 

Broth, or Brodo in Italian, is when we bring a pot of water to the boil first with vegetables, aromatics and salt.  Then we add meat such as a stewing hen, capon or off cuts of beef:  tongue, belly, and leg muscles to the boiling liquid.  The meat is then simmered until tender, and becomes a dish known as Bollito (boiled meat).  The remaining broth, or brodo, would be used to make soupy pasta dishes such as Tortellini in Brodo (tortellini with broth) or Stracciatella (basically the Italian version of Egg Drop Soup).

To make up for the lack of a meaty stock, Umbrians add their favorite ingredient to almost every soup in the book: pancetta.  Pancetta is cured pork belly - similar to bacon, except that it is not smoked, just hung out to dry with a heavy dose of salt, garlic and black pepper.  If pancetta is not used, we might see lard ground up with onions, carrots and celery as a base, or even the extra skin and fat cut off of a prosciutto, as in Fagioli con le Cotiche (Beans cooked with prosciutto skin).

Zuppa di Lenticchie (Umbrian Lentil Soup)

1 cup of Umbrian brown lentils
extra virgin olive oil
1 thick slice of pancetta, cubed
1 med. onion, diced finely
1 carrot, diced finely
1 stalk celery, diced finely
2 cloves garlic
1 small hot pepper
1 bay leaf
4-6 sage leaves
1/2 cup tomato sauce/puree or 2 Tbs tomato concentrate
salt

Heat a medium sized pot,  add a few tablespoons of olive oil and pancetta, and brown.
Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic, hot pepper, bay leaf, sage leaves.  Cook until they become translucent.
Add lentils.  
Add tomato puree.
Add 4-5 cups of water.
Salt to taste.
Cook until lentils are tender, adding water if necessary.
Serve with bread and extra-virgin olive oil.


The Birds & the Bees of Zucchini Flowers... or... Everything you always wanted to know about Zucchini Flowers (but were afraid to ask)

It's that time year when zucchini blossoms are everywhere here in Italy... and they happen to show up frequently in my cooking classes and private dinners... ;-)  But there is more to the humble zucchini blossom that meets the eye! For instance, did you know that there are both male and female flowers on each zucchini plant, and that each serves a different purpose in the culinary world?

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Let's begin with the female - she is easy to recognize as she can be found on a short stem close to the center of the plant literally 'birthing' the zucchini.  In fact, they are frequently sold with their little zucchini offspring attached.  The flower is bulbous near to the stem and the stigma inside is composed of tiny 'fingers' to catch pollen from the males.  The females tend to be softer and wither rather quickly after harvest, so I use them to toss in pasta dishes and frittatas. 

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Our friend the male zucchini blossom, on the other hand, stands at attention (hee hee) on a long slender stem.  Inside you will find a single stamen, which one could correlate with a part of the human anatomy (ahem).  The male flowers tend to remain, umm, firmer (insert joke here)... so I use them for stuffing and deep frying as they can better take the heat.

Here is my recipe for Fiori di Zucca Fritti (Fried Zucchini Blossoms)

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Mozzarella (a type made for pizza – drier than traditional buffalo mozzarella)
Salted anchovies (de-spined, rinsed and cut into small pieces)
All-pupose flour
1 ice cold beer (I use a mild tasting beer like Peroni)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (sometimes I cut the oil with organic sunflower seed oil to cut down on the cost)
 
CzirVDO2i0Hud8g3Ld0dFkamMA30iM-Qh9MXtDq1s0_BCu78UtQuk3x57iuOsWfo14-FSARpIdqA2TQnf7tmxIgmAy3eIjB18Oo-MkU8QdsS9TqHxENOYREugORYmicuM4RWT-hYrkh79A2LAly1lBopopNK7W2sutGN1cRZWYzdlv1DvD2z2s72pNRaU_dQtVXTMDrouwVa7WQRq-99l5uwqsq4hKCarefully remove the stamens from the zucchini flowers. 
Then stuff each flower with a piece of mozzarella and a piece of anchovy and twist to close.  
Whisk the beer into the flour, should be like pancake batter.
Pass each flower in the batter.
Drop into hot oil to fry, will be done after 2-3 minutes, when the bubbles start to slow down.
Drain on paper towels and salt while hot.


Chickpea Flour Torta

IMG_5736Monday night dinners usually mean a 'clean-out-the-fridge-frittata' in my house, however, my son was recently diagnosed with a (hopefully temporary) egg allergy.... so the frittata is out.  Perusing the (gulp) vegan blogs I found a lot of recipes for chickpea flour 'eggs.'  Umbria is legume country, especially from the area known as Colfiorito, meaning we have no shortage of chickpea, or ceci, flour.... so I thought I'd give it a try... and what do you know? It was great!  Mind you, it has nothing to do with eggs now matter what the vegans and vegetarians will have you believe, but it is delicious all the same (and I know that because my 2 year old devoured it). It is reminiscent of a baked version of Sicilan panelle, which are basically fried chickpea flour patties.  Here is my version:

  • 165g chickpea flour (about 1.5 cups)
  • 2 cups water
  • chopped spring garlic
  • 1 med zucchini, small diced
  • 1 cup cooked swiss chard, chopped
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • heat oven to 400F/200C

In a cast iron pan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. 
Add garlic, zucchini, chard and cook until zucchini starts to turn golden brown.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, slowly whisk together the water and chickpea flour until smooth.
Pour the chickpea mixture into the pan and cook over medium high heat for a few minutes, season well with salt.
Then, put in oven to set, about 15 minutes.
Let cool slightly before cutting.

 


It's a Beef Stew kind of day...

-1It's a drizzly, February day here in Umbria... a beef stew kind of day... 
One day, like today, when I had my restaurant in Foligno, I decided to make an Italianized version of Irish Beef Stew... Low and behold, what I had really made was classic Umbrian Spezzatino di Manzo - and it was a hit!  I had to leave this dish on my menu all winter, because for my Umbrian clients, spezzatino was a comfort food, a dish that takes time to prepare, and few have that time - except for me, of course!

Spezzatino di Manzo

  • 5o0g cubed beef for stew
  • flour for dusting
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 -2 carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks celery or 1 fennel bulb, diced
  • 2 potatoes, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 small hot pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Tbs chopped rosemary
  • 1 glass white wine
  • 1 Tbs course sea salt
  • extra virgin olive oil

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot.  Meanwhile, dust the beef with flour.  Brown the beef in the olive oil (over medium high heat) and remove from pot.
Add the diced onions, carrots, celery, garlic, pepper, bay leaf, rosemary and sweat for a few minutes.
*If you want a red stew, you can add some tomato paste or tomato puree at this point, and subsitute red wine for the white.
Add the beef back into the pot with the potatoes.  Deglaze with a glass or so of white wine. Salt.
Add enough water to come about half way up the meat.
Cover and turn heat to low, or cover and put in oven at 325/165 and cook slowly for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until meat is tender.

 

 


Ricotta Frappe for Carnival!

-1Many of you are preparing for your Superbowl party, but we here in Italy are in the midst of the Carnevale season, which means we eat a lot of fried sweet dough (there is always an excuse!)!

Here is a recipe for Frappe aka Chiacchiere, which, with the addition of ricotta cheese, turn out like the lightest most fluffiest funnel cake you have ever eaten.  Try them as they are very easy to make!

Frappe alla Ricotta

  • 500g flour (about 1 lb)
  • 15 g brewers yeast (a little more than half a cube), dissolved in 25 ml warm water
  • 25g (2 Tbs) butter, melted
  • 120g (1/3 cup) ricotta, well drained
  • 2 heaping Tbs sugar
  • pinch salt
  • zest of half a lemon
  • 1 Tbs MistrĂ  or anise flavored liquor
  • 125 ml milk, just warmed
  • 1 liter sunflower seed or peanut oil for frying
  • 1/4 cup of warmed honey
  • powdered sugar
  1. In a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook (or just mix very well by hand), add flour, yeast with water, melted butter, ricotta, sugar.
  2. Mix well on low speed for a few minutes
  3.  Add salt, zest, mistra, mix well.
  4. Slowly add milk, mix well for a few minutes.
  5. Turn dough out onto a wooden cutting board and knead with your hands for a few minutes.
  6. The dough should be soft and pliable and not too sticky.
  7. Place the dough in large bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
  8. Once risen, turn out the dough onto a large wooden cutting board and roll out with a rolling pin until the dough is about 2-3 mm - the thinner the better
  9. Cut into strips about 2 cm x 8 cm
  10. Twist the strips into any shape you like
  11. Meanwhile heat the oil in a wok (gives you depth and surface area) - you are deep frying.
  12. When the oil is hot, drop in the frappe, 4 or 5 at a time, they will puff up.
  13. The oil should be over medium heat. Hot enough that the frappe float immediately the oil bubbles, but not so hot that they burn.
  14. When they have browned on one side, turn them over and fry until the bubbles diminish.
  15. Drain on paper towels
  16. Drizzle with warmed honey and sprinkle with powdered sugar

For my Castagnole recipe (another Carnevale treat) read my post Lolita's Carnevale.

 

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Anchovy & Potato Tortino Recipe

IMG_4676After posting pics of my fireplace dinner from this weekend, I just had to post the recipe due to popular demand!

Tortino di Alici e Patate

  • 500 grams of fresh anchovies - not salted!
  • 4-5 medium sized potatoes, sliced very finely
  • 1/2 c breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 c grated aged pecorino cheese
  • 1 Tbs grated lemon zest
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbs chopped parsley
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt

Continue reading "Anchovy & Potato Tortino Recipe" »


An Italian Recipe...

-1
This week some students of mine asked me to teach them how to make a certain type of cookie that they had been eating in nearby Spello.  Now remember, here in Umbria (as well as pretty much all of Italy) recipes and typical dishes can vary greatly from town to town - even villages just 10 km apart, like Spello and Cannara.

Continue reading "An Italian Recipe..." »


Umbria's Best Borscht

-1I know, I know, Umbria and borscht are two worlds that generally do not collide, especially since it is nearly impossible to find fresh, local beets in central and southern Italy (they are always sold precooked in the supermarkets - yuck!).  However, Ada, my trusted veggie lady here in Cannara happens to grow beets, mostly for the Eastern European population living in our area... but also for me!

Continue reading "Umbria's Best Borscht" »


May Day Fritelle!

IMG_0002_2It's the first of May, which means you are either reincarnating the ancient pagan festival of Beltane or celebrating International Workers' Day...  here in Italy we lean towards another excuse for a spring picnic.  But the weather was a litte iffy today, so instead of risking a wet picnic, I went out for a bike ride and came across some wonderful edible blossoms from  Acacia and Elderflower trees.  And since it is May 1st, which means we are just that much closer to bathing suit season... I thought, screw it! I'm gonna fry these blossoms up!

Fritelle di Fiori di Acacia & Sambuco (fried Acacia & Elderflower blossoms)

  • 100g flour
  • 50g sugar
  • 100mL cold milk
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 egg whites beaten until soft peaks barely form
  • acacia and elderflower blossoms
  • extra virgin olive oil or peanut oil
  • powdered sugar

In a bowl, mix together flour, sugar, milk and egg yolk.  Fold in beaten whites.  Dip blossoms into the batter and coat well.  Deep fry in oil over medium-low heat until golden brown (if the oil is too hot, the batter will not cook in the center).  Drain on paper towels.  Dust with powdered sugar.  Forget that bathing suit season is right around the corner.

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Il Camino

PhotoLining the back of my fireplace, or camino, are two iron plaques:  one is of a griffin, the symbol of Cannara and also Perugia (which makes sense, as we live in the town of Cannara in the Province of Perugia...); the other, however, is the image of a large ship (like an Argosy...or a Clipper... or maybe a Galleon.... ship identification is not my area of expertise...), which I would like to believe is maybe the symbol of some other province, and placed there as an homage to the seafaring life that person had lived before transferring to land-locked Umbria.  From my 6 minutes of research that my infant and toddler allowed my to complete, I found that both Rimini and Savona have ships as their symbols.  The one from Savona looks a little a bit more like my ship, but I will have to investigate this further (which means getting the gossip from some of my older neighbors) at a later time.

So, in honor of the nautical side of my fireplace, I decided to make Zuppa di Pesce con Pasta alla Chitarra (Fish Soup with pasta made on the Chitarra), a dish from Abruzzo.  Cooking this slowly in the fireplace gave the soup an even richer flavor.  Here is the recipe:

  • In a terracotta pot (if you have one, otherwise enameled cast iron or a heavy bottomed stainless steel pot will work as well), heat extra-virgin olive oil with chopped onion, carrots, celery, a few whole garlic cloves, a few hot peppers, and 2 bay leaves.  Cook until the onions are translucent.
  • Add shellfish and cook in the oil until the shells start to darken
  • Add small whole fish and squid cut into rings
  • Deglaze with a glass of red wine (that's right red)
  • Add crushed or pureed tomatoes to cover by about an inch and season well with salt
  • Simmer for about 15-20 minutes
  • With a strainer, remove the fish from the sauce, set aside in a warm place
  • Add hot salted water to the sauce - this will depending on how much your sauce has reduced, but you will probably need at least a liter, bring to a rolling simmer
  • Add your Chitarra (recipe to follow) and cook for about 10 minutes, the sauce should reduce almost completely
  • Serve the pasta alongside the fish and enjoy with a glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo!

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Pasta alla Chitarra

  • on a wooden cutting board, make a well with 300g semolina flour, 100g AP flour, and 4 whole eggs
  • mix together and knead until smooth, about 15 minutes
  • let rest for 45-60 minutes
  • divide the dough into 4 pieces and roll out into rectangular sheets 3-5mm high
  • place a sheet of dough over the chitarra, and pressing firmly, roll over the dough with a pin until the pasta is cut by the strings of the chitarra
  • toss with semolina flour and cover with a towel until ready to use

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